Black History Month and Early Childhood Educators

A young girl walks on a bridge

In celebration of Black History Month, it is essential to lift up the important work every day of the early childhood workforce, a majority of which in North Carolina are individuals of color.[1] In fact, in North Carolina, nearly three-quarters (73%) of family child care providers are individuals of color.[2] And, to be fully transparent, about 99% of the early education workforce are women.[3]

Throughout the United States, about 40% of the early childhood workforce are individuals of color.[4] Whether the percentage is 40% nationally or 51% in North Carolina, what is clear is that these early educators help make the early education teaching workforce racially diverse (compared to K-12 teachers where approximately 80% are white).[5]

Unfortunately, being part of the early educator workforce comes with a dubious distinction. The pay is low. And, nearly half work without benefits such as health care or retirement plans. According to Child Care Services Association’s (CCSA) 2019 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, median wages were:[6]

  • $12 per hour for all center-based teaching staff
  • $11 per hour for center-based staff working with infants and toddlers
  • $12.45 per hour for center-based staff working with preschool-age children, and
  • $9.09 per hour for family child care providers.

Throughout the country, wages vary by state but the national median for those working in child care is $12.24 per hour ($25,459 per year).[7] At that level, a three-person family would qualify for food assistance (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP). It’s no wonder studies show that more than half (53%) of the child care workforce (compared to 21% of the U.S. workforce) relies on one of four public assistance programs: the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).[8]

In North Carolina, the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) has supported several initiatives to boost the wages of the state’s early educators, to pay them in a way better aligned with the important work they do.

1. Through federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, DCDEE is in the process of making quarterly program stabilization payments to child care providers through June 2023.[9] Providers can opt-in to receive a supplement to make bonus payments for teaching and non-teaching staff. Or programs can opt-in to receive a larger supplement if they commit to increasing base pay and/or benefits as they address workforce compensation strategies.

CCSA was part of a workgroup that developed the North Carolina Early Childhood Compensation Collaborative Model Salary Scale for Early Education Teachers that programs can use for guidance to increase child care compensation.

2.  Access to T.E.A.C.H. scholarships is even easier — eligibility income caps have been suspended through June 2022. With a scholarship, obtaining an A.A. in early childhood education or a B.A. in early childhood education leads to higher pay. In addition, the eligibility cap for the WAGE$ program, which supplements the pay of child care providers based on their level of education, increased to $23 per hour and the AWARD$ program also made an adjustment to support the infant-toddler workforce. These are important initiatives in North Carolina to boost early educator competencies and their pay.

While these steps are critical to improving the level of compensation for the early childhood field in the short term, more needs to be done to improve the ability to recruit and retain early educators in the long term.

The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) recommends the following policies for consideration:[10]

Recommendation 1: Establish and fund a wage floor for early educators.

Recommendation 2: Provide targeted funding and systemic changes to end disparities in the workforce that include those related to race and ethnicity, immigration status and geography.

Recommendation 3: Fund direct, targeted support to family child care providers.

Recommendation 4: Prioritize stable contract-based funding arrangements for both centers and home-based providers.

Recommendation 5: Fund and make publicly available longitudinal research on the early care and education system and workforce.

Recommendation 6: Ensure that all state policies are made in consultation with early educators.

While CSCCE’s recommendations were made as part of a report for California, across the country, these recommendations are worth thinking about for the long-term quality and stability of the child care workforce. As I’ve said before, this is the workforce that supports all other workforces. It is the workforce that helps shape the trajectory of the next generation, particularly given what we know about brain development during a child’s earliest years. They perform important work and should be paid accordingly for the work they do.

Now is the time for N.C. to have discussions for better compensation strategies for the long term. We can do this. We should do this. It is an equity issue and a fairness issue. There truly is no time to waste.


[1] Child Care Services Association, 2019 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, September 2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Early Childhood Workforce Index 2020.

[5] National Center for Education Statistics, Table 209.22. Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by instructional level and selected teacher and school characteristics: 1999-2000 and 2017-18.

[6] Child Care Services Association, 2019 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, September 2020.

[7] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Classification Codes, Child Care Workers.

[8] Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Early Childhood Workforce Index 2018, Earnings & Economic Security.

[9] NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE), Child Care Stabilization Grants.

[10] Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, “The Forgotten Ones”—The Economic Well-Being of Early Educators During COVID-19, February 16, 2022.


Foundation for Child Development’s Scholars of Color Series

Dr. Asa G. Hilliard III: The Man, The Mindset, & Relevance for Today

The Foundation for Child Development is hosting a webinar dedicated to highlighting the life and timeless work of Dr. Asa G. Hilliard III  on Wednesday, February 23rd. This special virtual event launches the Foundation’s Scholars of Color Series featuring the contributions of scholars of color in the early care and education field and the vital relevance of their work in improving the lives of young children today.

You can join this special event and register for the webinar.