Supporting the Early Care and Education Workforce

Another fiscal year is in the books for the Child Care WAGE$® Program and results continue to be strong for this program that nears its 30th anniversary. WAGE$ started as a county-based pilot program with first payments issued in 1994 and since its beginning, the program has supported increased retention, education and compensation. With anecdotal evidence that the early care and education field continues to struggle with attracting and retaining qualified staff, WAGE$ is proud to offer education-based salary supplements to help address these concerns.

The workforce has also had access to stabilization grants from the Division of Child Development and Early Education, which have made it possible for many sites to increase compensation through raises, bonuses and/or benefits. However, the funds currently used to support those increases are temporary and it is unclear if or how employers will be able to maintain those rates once the grants are no longer available. WAGE$ supplements are a crucial support for early educators and enhance the best compensation employers can offer, making it more feasible for educated professionals to afford to teach children. 

WAGE$ recipients have made it clear that the supplements make an importance difference in their lives and their ability to stay in the field. With a turnover rate of only 14% in a time of flux across most industries, participants are providing greater stability for children across the state. Their survey feedback further supported the WAGE$ impact on retention. Ninety-six percent (96%) of the respondents stated that WAGE$ encourages them to stay with their current child care programs. One participant said, “WAGE$ encourages teachers to stay with their programs and continue to do this important work despite the fact that the pay for this job generally undervalues how important early childhood educators are within our society. We are paid as ‘babysitters’ and not educators. Until wages for this pivotal work increase across the board, the WAGE$ Program helps teachers like me to make ends meet and to remain with teaching.”

The WAGE$ population is also well educated, with the majority having at least a two year degree with significant early childhood coursework. Children benefit when their teachers have knowledge about their growth and development. According to one director with staff participating on the program, “WAGE$ has helped the teachers stay motivated to increase their knowledge about child care and bring the knowledge they gain to the classroom so the children can receive high quality care.”

As a result of their participation, recipients earned an average six-month supplement of $1,219, and 98% of evaluation respondents indicated that receiving a WAGE$ supplement helps ease financial stress. Most reported using their supplements to help pay bills and to address their basic needs, such as food and housing. Economic insecurity impacts teacher well-being and can have consequences for the quality of interactions they have with the children in their care, highlighting the importance of this additional compensation. “Teachers and people who work in education are so undervalued on a day-to-day basis, and their paychecks reflect that. Having this program helps me feel like I can be financially more secure and allows me less stress day-to-day knowing I have this extra money in my bank account,” said one WAGE$ recipient.

The supplements also bring value in another way, by recognizing the importance of educators working with young children. Ninety-seven percent (97%) of responding participants indicated that, as a result of WAGE$, they feel more appreciated and recognized for their work. A participating teacher shared, “The support from WAGE$ impacts my life greatly. I want to stay in the early child care field because I love working with children. I feel very secure and positive about being an educator since receiving the WAGE$ supplement. It feels like my job is viewed as important and is appreciated.”

These important benefits are made possible through collaborative funding from participating Smart Start partnerships and the Division of Child Development and Early Education. Smart Start partnerships interested in supporting supplements for their workforce may contact WAGE$ at For additional information about the FY23 WAGE$ results, including participant perspectives, the full report is now available.

North Carolina Impact
2022 -2023

9.1 million

More than 9.1 million invested in WAGE$ salary supplements


turnover rate


average six-month supplement


supplement recipients


early education programs with supplement recipients


of active participants have the AAS ECE or higher or have submitted education during the year to document additional coursework