A national movement to help educate the public about the benefits of early childhood educators is focusing on an increase pay rates and decrease in work hours.
The Council for Professional Recognition includes Utah among the states that need to better compensate professionals who work with their children.
Valora Washington is CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition based in Washington D.C. She said early childhood educators in Utah are underpaid, work in poor conditions and have a low occupational status.
“The research has consistently shown over decades that when children have a high-quality early childhood education experience, it benefits them now and in the future. It benefits their children, it also benefits the economy of your state,” Washington said. “The most important factor in having high quality and getting the goals that science tells us is possible, is the person who is actually working with the child.”
To help improve working conditions for teachers, the Council for Professional Recognition offers early childhood credentials - focusing on skills in health and safety, how to foster intellectual curiosity and building social and emotional skills in children.
“We’re also working to help them really increase their working conditions that they face,” Washington said. “For example, in Utah, the average early childhood person is making $22,000 a year.”
That salary, Valora said, would be about $10.27 an hour.
“That means that many of them are eligible for public assistance,” Washington said. “So what we find in 45 years of doing this work is that the childhood workers are really caring a lot about the children and the families. But for many of them, obviously this is a poverty wage, even though they’re working full time, even though they’re working very intensely, they are still earning poverty wages. We would really want to help people understand that childcare workers, preschool teachers need to earn salaries that are commensurate with the skills and competencies that are required for the job.”
Washington said her group is focused on reaching parents – asking them to think about how childhood educators in their communities are faring financially. The group is calling for more respect for early childhood education professionals who they say deserve adequate compensation and funding and recognition for the work they do with their children.
“We’re really encouraging everyone in Utah to look at the situation because there are 256,000 children in Utah today that are having an early childhood education experience,” Washington said. “We want to make sure it’s the best.”