Commitment To Kids Society's Support For Child Care Just Isn't Cutting It
February 9, 2006
Commentary By Lena Rodriguez
Compensation for child-care workers
is far too low across the country, and the federal budget released
this week - with cuts in all domestic social services - is likely
to make matters worse.
Connecticut's Child Health and Development
Institute laid out the issue in a report called "Shaping Young
Lives," published in November. Median annual salary for a classroom
teacher in a licensed child-care center is $22,000, and a quarter
earn less than $20,000. The situation is worse for assistant teachers,
who average $17,000 for full-time work. That's about $10 an hour.
I am not the first to note that our society offers better compensation
to those who bathe and groom our pets than to those who care for
our children. Perhaps this disparity spotlights the low value that
we place upon this crucial work.
But we must also consider the economics
of this field, which touches at least 90 percent of the children
in Connecticut. It is nearly impossible to turn the revenue generated
by parent fees into a reasonable, professional salary for preschool
staff: Either the parents are paying far more than they can afford
or the teachers are making unacceptably low wages.
Publicly financed early-care programs
are an absolute necessity for lower-income working families and
those transitioning off welfare. Head Start and other government-funded
early-education programs allow many children to attend for free.
Other families pay fees on a sliding scale far below market rate
- less than $50 per week per child for full-day programming.
Yet public dollars for this all-important
service are declining as costs - including heat and health insurance
- are rising. Sarah Greene, president of the National Head Start
Association, points out that over the past four years, inflation-adjusted
funding has declined by more than 5 percent. "In fact, the
federal government will appropriate $57 million less for Head Start
in 2006 than in the prior year," she says.
This is the backdrop for the strike
that started in November by the union that represents the preschool
staff at the Community Renewal Team, the region's anti-poverty agency,
based in Hartford. We strongly support raising the pay of people
working in our early-childhood programs, but funding realities prevent
this from occurring. Our staff receives salaries well above the
industry average at licensed centers in this region. For example,
our yearly median for full-time teachers is $7,685 more than the
state median of $22,000. In addition, Community Renewal Team is
one of the few child-care providers offering family medical and
dental benefits, employer matches on retirement savings accounts,
free disability and life insurance, and generous academic leave.
But supporting staff in this way is
not inexpensive, and CRT's early-childhood programs ended 2005 with
a substantial deficit. The outlook for 2006 is worse, with Congress
proposing to cut 24,000 Head Start slots nationwide - nearly 1,000
of which may be in Connecticut. Over the past two years, federal
cost-of-living adjustments increased funding by 2.5 percent on the
dollar. If you have paid for gasoline or electricity recently, you
know that this is not enough to address the actual rise in your
Community Renewal Team runs many familiar
programs, including homeless shelters, Meals on Wheels and energy
assistance. Each of these faces stringent budgetary constraints,
and each must generate enough revenue to cover its costs. To ensure
the integrity of our programs, we should not - and we will not -
look to one program to subsidize another.
It seems that the majority of our early
childhood staff understand this. More than three-quarters of the
unionized preschool staff returned to their classrooms within a
week of the start of the labor action in November. Most of our families
experienced only a brief disruption; all but three of our 83 classrooms
are open. Each day, those classrooms are filled with children whose
academic, social and even workplace success will be shaped by their
Research shows that each dollar invested
in quality preschool returns many more in long-term benefits for
society. We must bring this message to elected officials and public
agencies. Our future depends upon it.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at