As early childhood care costs and demand are on the rise, a new report shows how Nebraskans are responding to issues such as low worker wages and access to care. NET News talks with Susan Sarver, who is the institute director of Workforce Planning and Development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, about the study.
NET NEWS: The majority of respondents in this survey say they place value on early childhood care and education. There's obviously an emphasis there. Yet we consistently hear about those working in this field making low wages. What can you tell us about that?
SUSAN SARVER: What we did find in the survey is Nebraskans agree that the early child care and education professionals are paid too little. Fifty-five percent of the parents said these professionals are paid too little and the average salary is about $19.000, which is below the poverty level for a family of four. So we know they recognize that, but we also know from our other work that they know how important this work is. When you asked Nebraskans, “Where's the best place for children when parents can't be at home with you during the day,” they say they prefer center based/in-home based care. So they know that this is really important.
Nebraskans want greater support for the early care and education workforce
- Sixty-six percent of Nebraskans say an early care and education center or home-based center are best when families cannot care for their children during the day.
- Almost half of Nebraska parents (46%) have turned to schools or teachers, and many (37%) have turned to child care providers for information about child care.
- Fifty-two percent of Nebraska residents would recommend a career in the early care and education field to a friend or family member. This percentage increases to 77% among respondents who are early childhood teachers or caregivers
- Forty-eight percent of Nebraskans believe that early care and education teachers and caregivers in the state are paid too little. Only 15% say they are paid the right amount.
- More than half of parents with children in early care and education centers (55%) say early care and education teachers and caregivers are paid too little
Source: Buffett Early Childhood Institute.
NET NEWS: Is it safe to assume that low wages have lead to higher turnover in this field? How much of a concern is that for parents?
SUSAN SARVER: I think it's a big concern for parents. What we know from national data is that low wages do lead to high turnover and that's tied to quality. We know one of the things really important for young children is that continuity of relationships. (It’s) knowing you've got the same person there day after day. Someone who knows you, understands you, and can work with you. So when that person leaves because of low wages, it scraps the patterns in the child's life. The problem is how do we deal with those low wages because we can't put all the burden on parents. We know the cost of putting an infant in child care is just as much as the cost of a college education. How we balance those out is the complex problem and one of the things we really want to work towards trying to struggle and figure out the solution.
NET NEWS: So why are we seeing early childcare costs on the rise?
SUSAN SARVER: It's because of the way that childcare tends to be funded. There are a lot of different funding streams that go into the different childcare settings. If you're a low income family, you're eligible for a childcare subsidy, but that tends to only pay a portion of the market price of childcare. If you're eligible for Head Start then you can get those same sort of resources for free, but even Head Start and early Head Start programs tend not to be full day programs so parents often have to find another placement for their child. So where the funding comes from makes a difference. Nebraska has some really excellent settings in terms of some great programs. We have pre-kindergarten programs that are in part funded by the states in the school systems. We know the pay for those professionals is higher. Sixpence programs, which are public private partnerships for children age zero to three, also have higher pay rates for their professionals, but it's because the funding streams are different. So when you go into community-based childcare most of the funding there has to come from parents fees and you can't increase parent fees and still allow parents to be able to afford it. So it's a balance for those providers in the community.
NET NEWS: In this survey, the majority of Nebraskans said they think the state is investing too little in early education and care programs, and wish it was a higher priority. Is that something your organization expects to happen in the near future?
SUSAN SARVER: I think it's one of the things we'd like to explore with all our partners in terms of talking with government agencies, talking with policymakers. Where's the best place to make the investments for the kids, for the workforce, so that we end up with the best solutions? We know it can't be all on parents. It can't be all on the public. So how do we balance that out to come up with a really good solution?