Early Educators Apprenticeship Act Introduced in the Senate

Blog Post
March 13, 2020

On March 12, 2020, Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.), Senator Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the Early Educators Apprenticeship Act. While an age-old and trusted method in other fields, apprenticeships are just gaining attention as an effective way to train early childhood educators. This bill will provide much needed federal resources to help partnerships within states to establish registered apprenticeship programs for their early childhood workforce, including apprenticeships that culminate in a college degree.

As the bill makes its way through the legislative process, members of Congress should look to exemplar early educator apprenticeship programs like several in Senator Casey’s home state of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, degree apprenticeships have emerged as an innovative and affordable strategy for preparing early education workers and equipping them with the postsecondary degrees required for career entry and advancement. A degree apprenticeship is a program delivered by an institution of higher education that integrates apprenticeshippaid, structured, on-the-job learning and mentorshipinto an associate or bachelor’s degree program. Individuals who participate in a degree apprenticeship earn progressive wage increases as they acquire skills. This provides an affordable way for adults already working in early education centers to get a degree, and also to make a bit more money along the way.

While degree apprenticeship programs are increasingly common in countries with large apprenticeship systems (think Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), they are relatively rare in the United States. Even more rare are programs that provide apprentices with college credit for the competencies they build on the job, in addition to what they learn in the classroom. This is an area where Pennsylvania ECE apprenticeship programs are excelling. For example, Carlow University, the first 4-year institution to offer a registered apprenticeship in the state, allows apprentices to earn 27 of the 120 credits needed to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Early Development and Learning through on-the-job learning. A university supervisor and on-site coach conduct classroom observations to confirm that apprentices are building the same competencies they would acquire in a traditional classroom setting.

What’s the significance of this approach? Degree apprenticeships like the ones at Carlow, the Community College of Philadelphia, Delaware County Community College, and other institutions in Pennsylvania reward ECE professionals for their experience and reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain a degree. This approach is particularly well-suited for the early learning workforce as non-traditional higher education students in a field that is calling for increased educational qualifications.

The Early Educators Apprenticeship Act creates federal grants that could enable partnerships throughout the nation to follow Pennsylvania’s lead to develop registered apprenticeship programs for the early childhood workforce. The stated goals of the bill are to: equip the early childhood workforce with the specialized knowledge, skills, and competencies required to work in early education; increase the number of apprentices with a credential or degree, including in rural areas; provide a pathway to career advancement for apprentices; support partnerships which include institutions of higher education and businesses; offer postsecondary credit for on the job training as well as related instruction; create a database to share best practices and resources; cover expenses such as tuition; and provide funding to evaluate programs and collect longitudinal data about apprenticeship programs.

We are pleased to see the federal government taking on the role of creating grants to incentivize the creation or development of early educator apprenticeships. The registered apprenticeship earn-while-you-learn training model is a promising strategy for state and local leaders to consider as an effective tool for teacher development. Stay tuned to New America’s Education Policy page for forthcoming bill analysis.

Read more about how the registered apprenticeship model can be adopted and executed, including how to combine programs with degree completion requirements in our Earning While Learning with Early Educator Apprenticeship Programs brief.

*Parts of this post were adapted from Lul Tesfai’s “Pennsylvania Makes Degree Apprenticeships Part of its Strategy for Preparing a Qualified Early Learning Workforce” originally published June 6, 2019.

**New America's Early & Elementary Education Policy team joined other early childhood education organizations signing an endorsement letter for the bill.

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