A new study finds the country’s system for training, compensating and supporting early childhood educators is neither effective nor equitable. The Early Childhood Workforce Index report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California found low wages and inconsistent expectations threaten early educators’ well-being, and the effectiveness of their work.
The report also faulted the lack of standard educational requirements.
Oklahoma is one of only four states that requires public pre-K teachers earn the same starting salary and salary schedule as elementary school teachers up to the third grade. It’s also one of 23 states that requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
Earnings for preschool teachers in Oklahoma rose by 23 percent between 2010 and 2015, but dropped by 4 percent for child care workers.
Budget cuts led the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to eliminate a program called REWARD Oklahoma, which provided a salary supplement to qualified private child care providers. The stipends ranged from $400 to $1,000 annually, according to OKDPS spokesperson Mark Beutler.
“The program was started to encourage retention of child care staff,” Beutler wrote in an email. “The salary supplements were sent to participants twice a year. Those participants were notified by letter on April 4, 2016, that as a result of the agency’s budget situation the program would be cut.”
The program was eliminated on July 1, 2016. Approximately 800 participants were enrolled in fiscal year 2016.
REWARD Oklahoma cost the state $800,000 per year.
Christie Umfleet is an early education teacher in North Carolina who lost a similar stipend. During a conference call on Thursday, she called incredibly important.
“I could catch up on bills. I could get work done on my car that maybe I couldn’t get done through my regular income,” Umfleet said. “And so Gilford County defunded the program, it had a huge impact not only on myself but others who were receiving that supplement.”
Approximately 800 participants were enrolled in the Oklahoma program in fiscal year 2016.
Index co-author Marcy Whitebook hopes policymakers will revive the program to keep educators from leaving the field.
“People are really dependent on those stipends, so when they lose them, it often will affect people’s decisions about whether to continue with the work,” Whitebook said.
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