Opinion: Taking care of early educators

Terri Sims
Terri Sims

Terri Sims
Terri Sims

Families are experiencing financial stress and early childhood educators with families are at the core of this crisis. There has been a tsunami of news articles highlighting that this pandemic shows the vital need of having child care centers so parents can go to work while trusting educators to keep their children safe and constantly learning. What’s missing from headlines is that we can not rebuild our economy without valuing people who provide care and education. That means we must have high-quality child care centers where educators earn a living wage.

In Ohio, early care and education workers are currently paid on average nearly $10 an hour for the essential work they provide, barely enough to meet the needs of their own families. These educators often have to rely on public assistance to put food on the table and make ends meet. Child care and early education teachers are chronically underpaid, and states and the federal government have historically underfunded the system.

For example, the Ohio Senate 2022 budget proposal plans to provide more child care options for Ohioans while at the same time getting rid of the important system that ranks and funds them. Known as the Step Up to Quality program, this system ranks child care providers in standards of education, health, and safety. Part of the plan by the Senate eliminates the requirement that child care and early education centers achieve a quality of care rating to be eligible for public funding. Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, says the current program costs too much.

As a child care educator and also a child care provider for nearly 30 years, I must stress that the Ohio Senate 2022 budget is heading in the wrong direction. Just last year the State of Ohio hailed the success of the Step Up to Quality with all centers reaching a one-star rating, with the mission of having all centers reaching a five-star rating by 2025. Yes, we want more child care centers, but they all must be high quality and ensure educators are valued and paid the living wage they have earned. What needs to happen is for elected officials to raise the reimbursement rate, so child care centers can pay educators a living wage.

At the national level, Congressional early care and education proposals would fund paying early child care workers and educators a minimum of $15 an hour, provide health care and other benefits, and make sure that compensation for early educators matches salaries for K-12 teachers with similar education and experience. These changes would dramatically boost the earnings of early educators, who are predominantly women and women of color.

High-quality child care centers are fundamental to strengthening and growing our economy. I believe that if we keep the Step Up To Quality rating system to help centers reach their goal of becoming high-quality centers, we then help build the next generation of workers. Our focus should be on making the program stronger, not eliminating it.

A Community Change Action national study of likely voters indicates that Americans - regardless of whether they have young children - support investing in child care to make it affordable for families and to pay early childhood educators a living wage. The survey shows that regardless of political leaning, voters agree that wages for the early care and education workforce are too low and favor increasing compensation.

People from across the nation call on Congress to invest $70 billion a year to build a caring agenda that supports every family in America by making early care and education free to low-income families and improving wages so that early education providers earn a comparable wage to K-12 teachers. We in Ohio join the national call and ask our state legislators to work with us to improve our current tools such as the Step Up To Quality rating system. Let’s work together to make our families thrive.

Dayton resident Terri Sims is an early childhood educator.