Blog

by Allison Miller, Compensation Initiatives at CCSA, and Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

The world is an uncertain place right now due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). In response to the pandemic, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund in partnership with Smart Start to help child care programs in North Carolina with urgent and long-term expenses during this time. Once the immediate crisis has passed, the fund may shift its focus to helping families pay for child care.

Amidst these unprecedented times, celebration is likely not the first thing on our minds. However, it is more important now than ever to remember the little things. Did you know National Coffee Day will be celebrated in September 2020? Or that National Donut Day is in June? These days, and many others like them, give us an opportunity to celebrate or enjoy these simple pleasures.

So, what is “Worthy Wage Day,” on May 1, 2020?

While early educators do not earn a worthy wage, this day gives us a chance to celebrate the early educators who work with young children and recognize that earning less than $11 per hour is unacceptable. We hope that teachers, families and communities across the country are taking advantage of this special day to raise their voices and say, “Enough is enough.”

Participants of CCSA’s education-based salary supplement programs, the Child Care WAGE$® Program and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®, often say they could not survive on their hourly wages alone. One teacher said the supplement is necessary for her to stay in early childhood because she was earning $3 more per hour working in retail. Retail jobs are absolutely important to our economy, especially once we reopen our stores and restaurants, but early childhood teachers are the workforce behind the workforce. We see this especially today as our early childhood educators allow our essential workers to be able to go to work during this health pandemic! They deserve to be compensated based on the value they bring. Not only do they allow parents to go to their jobs, but they also build the brains of our youngest children, children who will become citizens, leaders, future parents.

Child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy

The importance of early childhood educators cannot be overstated. The reasons they earn so little are complicated, but basically, parents simply cannot afford the cost of quality care, and without an external source of funding, such as public funding, teacher pay remains low. However, as science continues to illustrate the critical need for educated, stable early childhood teachers, there is hope that the field’s compensation will become front and center as future budget decisions are made. And as COVID-19 continues to spread, as we are experiencing now what the early childhood field has always known – child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy.

What does the research show?

We all know that positive early experiences are the building blocks of brain development and that our early childhood workforce is a critical component of this construction process. Stable and engaging relationships between young children and the adults in their lives can have a lifelong impact. As brain builders, early educators need scaffolding such as quality education, opportunities for professional development and fair compensation. With appropriate support, the early childhood workforce can provide the experiences necessary to build trust and promote learning.

To have quality care for children, teachers must be fairly compensated. A worthy wage would be a wage that acknowledges and celebrates their importance for growth and development in young children and allows them to stay in early childhood as a financially competitive profession. The supplements WAGE$ and AWARD$ offer are designed to recognize their retention and education and help address the salary gap.

Participants and employers know firsthand the importance of these incentives. One director said, “Child care teachers are not paid what they are worth. Therefore, centers have a great deal of turnover. The majority of my staff have been with me for years and I am very proud of that; WAGE$ helps them tremendously with that.”

These supplements would not be possible without the ongoing commitment and funding from local Smart Start partnerships that choose to invest in WAGE$, and the NC Division of Child Development (DCDEE). DCDEE provides funding to help support the administration of Child Care WAGE$® and is the sole funder for Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®.

As one AWARD$ recipient said to DCDEE, “Thank you so much for seeing us for what we’re worth and helping take some financial stress off our plates. I truly feel well taken care of and appreciate the much-needed funds.”

Make it a priority

Teachers are worthy of fair compensation. It isn’t a question. On Worthy Wage Day, especially during the time of COVID-19, make it a priority to share your appreciation with teachers and to say to anyone who will listen that “enough is enough.”

How can you help?

Learn more about how you can help early childhood educators to either continue offering quality care to the children of essential workers or to reopen once it’s safe to, and to get the tools and resources they need during this challenging time.

If you are an early childhood provider

We are especially interested in your comments about how COVID-19 has affected you. You can submit stories of hopeful moments or have the chance to vent challenges by emailing us here.

By Marsha Basloe, president of Child Care Services Association

As I drove to work this morning, the conversation on my news radio station was around essential positions in our communities. They mentioned hospitals, schools, grocery stores and more.

We must not forget our child care programs and the early childhood educators who teach and care for our children every day!

As the coronavirus affects all aspects of our lives, I urge federal, state and local policymakers to consider early childhood educators as essential workers in today’s economy. Any measures taken by government to support Americans who do not have paid sick leave, early childhood educators must be included. These dedicated teachers are the workforce that supports all other workforces. With K-12 schools closing, child care centers must consider whether to remain open and risk exposure or to close and put their teachers and staff at risk of not being paid. The centers that choose to remain open might also be needed to serve additional children.

Early childhood educators are one of the lowest-paid workforces in the U.S., and often do not have paid sick leave or health insurance. And yet, this does not reflect their value to our children and families. Science tells us the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for brain development, setting the architecture for all future learning. “Early experiences affect the development of the brain and lay the foundation for intelligence, emotional health, and moral development,” according to Jack Shonkoff, director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. [1]

“The lack of paid sick days could make coronavirus harder to contain in the United States compared with other countries that have universal sick leave policies in place,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal health agencies, said in a statement. “Low-income workers and their families could be hit even harder by the virus, as low wage jobs are at the forefront of not providing sick leave benefits.” [2].

“Workers should never be forced to choose between staying home or working while sick to earn a living,” said Congressman David Price. [3] While it didn’t pass in Congress, Congressman Price co-sponsored Rep. DeLauro’s Healthy Families Act “because we need a national paid sick leave policy to help families take care of illnesses and the financial burden it may cause. And, it will help contain the spread of viruses like coronavirus by allowing sick workers to remain home.” [3]

Early childhood educators ARE essential personnel. If federal, state and local governments are going to support essential jobs, we must also support our child care workforce and our early childhood programs.

We hope that North Carolina will consider multiple areas to support programs and families, including:

  • Adjusting payment policies so they are based on enrollment of children rather than actual attendance;
  • Waiving any state policies that terminate child eligibility based on a specific number of absent days;
  • Temporarily suspending redetermination of family eligibility for child care services;
  • Allowing providers to waive co-pays and adjusting reimbursement rates accordingly.

There are many more ways we can support our communities, and we would be happy to work with the state on this. We need to ensure that we support our early childhood community!

“Every child deserves the best chance to succeed,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “That means we have to support families, early childhood teachers, and all those who have an impact on early childhood development.” [4]


[1] The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.

[2] The Hill. Democrats introduce bill to guarantee paid sick leave in response to coronavirus.

[3] Congressman David Price’s Facebook Page. March 6, 2020 Facebook Post.

[4] Governor of North Carolina. North Carolina awarded $56 million to promote children’s well-being and early learning.

By Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

When Davina Woods was asked how she became interested in early childhood, she said, “I entered the profession as an undercover helicopter mom! I had just placed my son in child care and I couldn’t stand not being there and seeing what and how he was doing.”

Her child’s center hired her as a part-time school-age group leader before she eventually found her calling with young children and their teachers. 

She started with no education and now she is in the master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship. After 25 years in the field, she loves her position as director of Excel Christian Academy, a five-star child care center in Alamance County, where she has been for 13 years.

“It has been a privilege to work in every single aspect of child care,” Davina said. “In every classroom, with every age group, in every position. I have fulfilled every duty from cook to van driver and it gives me perspective and appreciation. I love this viewpoint. I get the luxury of working with children, families and teachers.” 

Davina’s center prioritizes its teachers by providing a livable wage as well as other key benefits, which she knows most teachers are unable to access in this field. “And then they get WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. on top of that,” she said.

The Child Care WAGE$® (WAGE$) Program provides education-based salary supplements to low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children between the ages of birth to five. The program is designed to provide preschool children more stable relationships with better-educated teachers by rewarding teacher education and continuity of care.

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program addresses under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce by providing educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

“WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are just part of who we are, part of the center’s make-up,” Davina said. “It is essential, imperative, to have an educated staff, especially here in the 21st century where children are not changing but the modes and methods of educating children are constantly evolving. Teachers must know best practices and know how to utilize the latest research and incorporate that into classrooms for the best outcomes for children.”

According to Davina, “WAGE$ is essential because it helps to boost teacher morale within the program. WAGE$ both encourages and motivates staff to increase their education. Additionally, WAGE$ provides a sense of healthy competition among team members as they see who can achieve the next level first.”

She said, “My teachers talk about the courses they take and they drive each other.” Three of her staff will graduate in December with their associate degree in early childhood education and they remind Davina of why she does what she does. “If I take great care of my team, they will take great care of the children.”

Thank you, Davina, for your support of the workforce and the Child Care WAGE$® Program.

Learn more about the Child Care WAGE$® Program here.

Learn more about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program here.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

If any issue warrants public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules, administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies, departments, divisions or communities.

In December 2019, Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early care and education programs:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes [1] and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K. [2] The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.

Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy. [3] Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care. [4] The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. [5]

Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.

For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.

The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.

There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. [12]

Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. [13]

In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. [14]

However, it is not just about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do. 

Rethinking is always a bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education

By Tanya Slehria, Spring Communications Intern at CCSA

Tracy Pace’s favorite part of being an early childhood educator is “being there, being able to be an advocate for [children’s] success and being willing to listen and try to help parents reach out, find the resources [they need] and gain new skills.”

Tracy wears many hats in her role as a lead teacher at Nanna’s & Momma’s Child Care Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. “And my title kind of switches from day-to-day,” Tracy said. “It depends. I’m a very flexible person, but the majority of my time is used either as teaching in a classroom or in the office as an executive assistant.” 

After high school, Tracy said, “I decided to get married instead of go to school…my husband and I were married for 5 years and our first child came along…We didn’t want them to do the same thing we’ve done. We wanted [them] to try to be smarter than that. So, we both had enrolled in school…Our second child came along and I just piddled here and there and did a class. So, it took me 26 years to get my associate’s degree and I’ve just done that this July [2019]” from Blue Ridge Community College.

Tracy’s educational journey may be filled with twists and turns, yet her commitment to education and early childhood education has remained consistent throughout her 30-plus years in the field. While working toward her degree, she was still supporting her family of four children as well. 

After graduating, Tracy enrolled in Brevard College. It was through her persistence and encouragement that they began offering a birth-to-kindergarten program and an education program for students to receive teaching licenses. She continued to pave her own path, and as she told Brevard, “I’d love to [enroll with] the T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship.” At the time, Brevard was not participating with CCSA’s T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, but Tracy’s determination led them to offer the scholarship. “So, in 10 classes, I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree,” Tracy said.

Tracy’s involvement with T.E.A.C.H. began with her work at Nanna’s & Momma’s where she became a Child Care WAGE$® recipient. At the time, she was her mother’s full-time caregiver, a full-time student, a full-time employee and a full-time mother. She credits her ability to keep up with it all to the WAGE$ supplement.

“The [WAGE$] supplement has allowed me not to have [a second job] and to help me manage all these other different things, as first of all, a wife and mother, and second of all, someone who wants to give back to their community. Without [WAGE$], it wouldn’t have been possible,” said Tracy. 

Tracy is as dedicated a teacher as she is a student. Her goal has always been to teach. Teaching “fits my family’s needs,” said Tracy.

Before her time in the classroom, Tracy worked as the assistant director for the Brevard Davidson River Presbyterian Church and was involved with various organizations. Her position helped her form a network of connections that serve as a benefit to her current role as an educator. “I think community resources is my biggest strength—those connections outside of this job and those I made before I got into this current job,” said Tracy. “I know people to call by name at the Social Services office. I would say that’s one of the biggest things for teachers, in general, is being able to know and have a list of those resources and know people by name.” 

Tracy attributes her teaching style to her community. “I’ve grown a lot and become a lot more flexible as I understand and continue to try to edge out a living in the community that I’ve worked and raised my kids in and [one that] they would love to come back to,” she said. She also credits her passion for reading, “which has given me an understanding and [ability to find] solutions, or things I can try, and that not all kids are the same.”

“We know everything we need to know before we’re age 5. That’s the point and most people miss that. They think we’re not anything until we’re 5 and go to kindergarten, but every child learns all their coping skills, their ability to receive and give information before the age of 5,” said Tracy.

By Cass Wolfe, CSO at Child Care Services Association

This year marks the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women waged a nearly 100-year effort, marked by setbacks and conflict while demanding the right to vote. Yet today, there are still significant efforts in several states to restrict voting for some groups of people. As such, it is important that those of us who can vote actually do vote. It is a right, a responsibility and a way to participate in the governance of our communities, state and nation. Don’t give up your right to someone whose opinions and views are different or maybe even the opposite of yours!

According to the United States Elections Project, only 49.6% of eligible North Carolina voters actually voted in 2018. Yet the voices of voters who care about issues that impact diverse families are necessary to increase funding and political interest in early childhood. With the complex, multi-layered challenges of the early care and education system, it is increasingly clear that additional political will and government funding are critical to improving early care and education for every child, parent, teacher and director.

For the first time ever, the major candidates for U.S. president have policy stances on child care and early education. The candidates have varying positions, some supporting pre-kindergarten for all, while others are advocating for more comprehensive birth to 5 programming and parent fee relief. Look at each candidate’s website to learn about their priorities for children, families and more.

The point is, each of us has an opportunity to help shape the conversation around child care and to support the candidates we each feel speak to our concerns the most clearly. But you have to be registered to vote. Fortunately, you have two options!

  • While North Carolina’s primary is Tuesday, March 3, 2020 and only those registered by February 7th can vote in this primary, you can participate in early voting and register when you are at the polling place. Early voting is February 13 – February 29 and is very convenient, with a variety of dates, times and locations. Click on your county’s name to get the Durham, Orange and Wake early voting schedules. If you live in a different county, click here.
  • Registered voters can also vote by absentee ballot (requests for absentee ballots must be made by February 25).

Finally, if you think you are registered, click here to ensure you are still registered.

One last important bit of information for the primary is that contrary to earlier information, you will not need any identification to vote.   

In addition to the presidential primary, there is also a primary contest for the U.S. Senate seat from North Carolina. There are also state and local offices on the ballot, including the governor’s, the lieutenant governor’s, the auditor’s and the treasurer’s offices. At the local level, school board, county commissioners and state legislative seats have multiple people running for office. 

There are many choices that influence decisions about our neighborhoods, our children’s schools, our state and our country. One example of local decision-making is Durham PreK. Voters’ support for access to publicly supported preschool for all 4-year olds led elected leaders to invest in young children.  These leaders with bold goals for children were voted in by citizens who cared. Your vote matters.

So go vote, take a friend or two with you, and wear your “I voted” sticker proudly. Finally, be sure to encourage all of the early childhood teachers and staff you know to join you in making a statement for our children. We need to vote since the children we are passionate about cannot vote. We need to vote for the future! 

For more information about voting in North Carolina, click here.

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Working Parents Need Access to Quality Child Care – More Support Needed for Child Care Workforce

Currently, throughout North Carolina, nearly half a million (457,706) children under age six live in a family where all parents in the household are working.[1] Many of these children are in some type of child care setting every week so that their parents can obtain and retain jobs that sustain and grow our state’s economy. 

A study by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) shows that child care as an industry has an economic impact in North Carolina of $3.15 billion annually ($1.47 billion in direct revenue and $1.67 billion in spillover in other industries throughout our counties and cities).[2] Child care programs have an overall job impact throughout the state of 64,852, which includes 47,282 individuals who are employed within child care centers or who operate a home-based business plus another 17,570 in spillover jobs – created through the activity of those operating child care programs.[3] The economic impact of child care matters because it helps drive local economies. When parents can access child care, they are more likely to enter the workforce and stay employed. 

The Child Care Workforce: Early Brain Builders

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

What we know is that child care is not only a work support for parents but also an early learning setting for young children. Research shows that a child’s earliest years are when the brain is developing the fastest – forming a foundation for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. During this time, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second.[4] This is important to understand because both parents and child care providers play an important role in supporting healthy child development – helping to shape the brain’s foundation for all future learning (e.g., school readiness and school success).

Because both genes and experiences impact a child’s brain development,[5] the child care workforce plays a critical role in supporting early learning. In essence, they are brain builders – working with children to support a strong foundation on which later learning depends – just like the foundation for a house, all floors above the basement depend on the construction or sturdiness of the basement.

The Workforce that Supports All Other Workforces

Despite the important role that child care educators play in supporting our next generation (as well as supporting the ability of parents to work), the current economic model for child care programs falls short of supporting child care workers in a way that recognizes their role in child development. How so? The operating budget for child care programs is based on parent fees and state subsidies paid for low-income children.

Because the current cost of child care in North Carolina is so high (e.g., $9,254 annually for center-based infant care),[6] program directors try to keep costs down because they know parents can’t pay more. However, what this translates to is low wages for the child care field. In today’s economy, where the fast-food industry and retail sales pay higher hourly wages and often offer benefits, the competition for the workforce to enter the early childhood field is steep. In fact, the early childhood field is experiencing a workforce crisis.

In North Carolina, the median wage earned for child care teachers is about $10.97 per hour ($22,818 per year if full time) and assistant teachers earn $9.97 per hour.[7] These wages represent a modest 0.7% increase in buying power despite much larger gains in education. The study also found that statewide, 39% of teachers and teacher assistants had needed at least one type of public assistance (e.g., TANF, Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, etc.) in the past three years.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is conducting a county-level early childhood workforce study for the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) that will be completed in August 2020. Once completed, North Carolina will have additional information.

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

For context, many child care educators are supporting their own families. With these wages, they fall well short of the level that qualifies them for public food assistance benefits (e.g., a family of three with income under $27,000 per year qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP).[8] It’s not hard to understand that workers in low wage jobs face stresses in making ends meet, in supporting their own families and in parking their stress outside the classroom door when working with young children. 

In North Carolina, the state funds two programs administered by CCSA to support the early childhood workforce:

  • Child Care WAGE$® Program, which provides education-based salary supplements to low paid teachers, directors and family child care educators working with children ages birth to five. The program is designed to increase retention, education and compensation. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is a funding collaboration between local Smart Start partnerships (55 partnerships) and the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).[9] Salary supplements are earned – tied to the recipient’s level of education, with teachers and family child care providers awarded on a different scale than directors.

These strategies are invaluable to better support the child care workforce for the important work that they do.  It raises salaries sometimes almost a dollar an hour. You can see the impact of these programs on our website. This is an investment in the workforce that supports all other workforces, AND also an investment that results in better outcomes for our children (e.g., brain-building that leads to school readiness). We hope these programs will grow in the years ahead to support our early childhood educators who care for our young children and families.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the work of our early educators. It is time for our communities to think about compensation for the early childhood workforce in a manner that reflects their contribution to our state’s prosperity.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=b23008&hidePreview=true&table=B23008&tid=ACSDT1Y2018.B23008&lastDisplayedRow=15&g=0400000US37

[2] Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update, Committee for Economic Development, 2019. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[3] Ibid.

[4] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[5] Ibid.

[6] The U.S. and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System, Child Care Aware of America, 2019. https://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/priceofcare/

[7] Child Care Services Association, Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina, 2015,  https://www.childcareservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2015-Workforce-Report-FNL.pdf        

[8] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eligibility 2019. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility

[9] WAGE$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association.  https://www.childcareservices.org/wages-nc/

[10] AWARD$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association. https://www.childcareservices.org/awards/

By Tomonica Rice-Yarborough and Kathy Thornton from CCSA’s Professional Development Initiatives Team

World Teacher’s Day was established in 1994 to recognize and celebrate teachers all over the world for their hard work and dedication. It also brings to light the issues affecting the profession to work toward a resolution for retaining and attracting teachers to the field. This day was founded to celebrate public school teachers, but early care educators also should be recognized on this day because they’re instrumental to the growth and development of our children. Their contributions to society’s economic stability should be valued, recognized and celebrated.

One of the main issues facing early care educators is the little recognition or validation they receive for the pivotal roles they play in the lives and development of young children. As a field, early educators in North Carolina often hold degrees, but they earn significantly less than public school teachers. According to CCSA’s 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, the median wage of center directors in North Carolina was $16.00 per hour, while teachers earned $10.97 per hour and assistant teachers earned $9.97 per hour. 

Although degree attainment has drastically increased in North Carolina, the field as a whole still suffers from being perceived as a high priced “babysitting service.” For 30 years, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program has provided the workforce with access to a debt-free college education while they work as low wage earners teaching future doctors, lawyers, teachers, administrative assistants, scientists…

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 than any other time in our life. Children who are formally cared for in early education settings outside of their homes depend on the early educator to support their developmental growth. Those years are particularly formative, making the role of the early educator even more critical. According to philosopher John Locke, “a child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge.” Early educators play a big part in setting the foundation for our children’s future.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Australia celebrated Early Childhood Educators’ Day to honor and appreciate early childhood educators. The world, like Australia, should have a day set aside to recognize early childhood educators. Sadly, early childhood educators are seldom during the World Teacher’s Day observance. This lends credence to the perception that early childhood education isn’t seen as a worthy profession. Why can’t we dedicate a day of observance to them?

Early education workforce initiatives in North Carolina such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, the Child Care WAGE$® and the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ salary supplement programs and NAEYC’s Power to the Profession are aimed at professionalizing the early care and education field so its members receive the respect, recognition and compensation they so rightly deserve.

Written by Allison Miller, VP of Compensation Initiatives at CCSA

Early Educator’s Day

Australia has the right idea. They celebrate Early Educator’s Day on September 4, 2019. We should do the same! We have National Provider’s Day in May, but shouldn’t we celebrate teachers who work with our young children at every opportunity? They deserve our recognition; children need them, parents need them and the nation needs them. They truly are the workforce behind the workforce.

The Workforce Behind the Workforce Deserves Better Compensation

Early educators make it possible for other professionals to go to their jobs, to lend their expertise to the community, to grow the economy. To be productive in the workforce, parents need peace of mind that can only come from knowing their children are in safe, stable, positive and engaging environments with teachers who can appropriately guide their learning.

It’s a lot to expect when early childhood teachers, on average, earn $10.97 per hour in North Carolina. It’s not an easy problem to solve because most parents cannot afford to pay more than they do. That’s where the Child Care WAGE$® Program comes in.

A Compensation Strategy: The Child Care WAGE$® Program

Early educators deserve to be paid commensurate with their education and the importance of their jobs. Sadly, that’s simply not the case. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is an education-based salary supplement program for teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children birth to five. Awards are issued after the eligible participant has completed at least six months with the same child care program.

As a result of this additional compensation, early educators not only earn more, but they are more likely to stay and increase their education. The quality of child care is improved when turnover rates are low, education is high and compensation is fair.

WAGE$ is made possible with the funding provided by the local Smart Start partnerships that elect to participate and the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Does WAGE$ work?

Yes! In the fiscal year 2018-2019, WAGE$ recipients from the 55 participating N.C. counties earned an average six-month supplement of $974, which breaks down to about $.94 more per hour for full-time employment. The vast majority of participants had at least a two-year degree with significant early childhood coursework and they stayed in their programs. Only 14% left their employers last year, which is notably lower than turnover rates prior to WAGE$ availability.

WAGE$ Recognizes Early Educators

In addition to the program results of increased education, retention and compensation, WAGE$ recognizes the importance of early educators and the key role they play in our lives. It is a way to show appreciation and to boost morale for an underpaid workforce.

In fact, 97% of survey respondents said that WAGE$ makes them feel more appreciated and recognized for their work.  The feedback of participants always highlights this message.

One teacher shared, “WAGE$ has shown the value of giving incentives to teachers.  Teachers need to feel appreciated and rewarded.  All teachers deserve a chance to feel special and loved; that is how WAGE$ makes me feel.”

We all need to take the time to show our appreciation to this workforce. They deserve it. Happy Early Educator’s Day!

For more information, view the Child Care WAGE$® Program: NC Statewide Report (FY19).

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Joe Coffey

Joe Coffey will earn his Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) from UNC-Wilmington next spring, and because of the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Scholarship program, he will do so debt-free. T.E.A.C.H. provides educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.

Joe has had the desire to teach and engage families and children for 18 years serving as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, public school administrator and training and technical assistance specialist. Now, while he pursues his M.Ed., he is the Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Program Director for Onslow County Partnership for Children in North Carolina.

“I am a true believer in lifelong learning. I also feel it is our responsibility to model life-long learning for those that we serve,” Joe said. “I originally became familiar with the T.E.A.C.H. program when I was completing my associate’s degree. Fellow students shared the information with me.”

What is T.E.A.C.H.?

In 1990, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) created the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program to address the issues of under-education, poor compensation and high turnover in the early childhood workforce. In 2000, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center was established in response to the growth and expansion of the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center is now offered in 22 states plus D.C. and has awarded over 150,000 scholarships since its opening.

T.E.A.C.H. is an umbrella for a variety of scholarship programs for those working in early education in North Carolina. Because of the complexities of the different scholarships, each recipient is assigned a specific scholarship counselor.

T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Counselors

Kimberly Bynum

Kimberly Bynum, who has been with CCSA for 22 years, is the program manager for T.E.A.C.H. North Carolina. One of her main duties is to provide counseling to graduate-level scholarship recipients like Joe. Those counselors are the reason Joe can say, “The process has been easy to use and to understand.”

“Joe is a great recipient to work with,” Kimberly said. “There’s not a lot of hand holding to do with him. He’s really proactive, but if there is ever anything missing, like when we do check-ins with our recipients several times throughout the semester, he’s very responsive to getting me what I need.”

Counselors play a vital role for T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients, helping them navigate through the many obstacles they may face while furthering their education.

“I do the same thing for Joe as I do for all my recipients. I make sure if they’re enrolled in school, we have the documents we need to go ahead and pay for their tuition upfront, because we don’t want anybody dropped…I usually go through and look at all my recipients, including Joe, to make sure we sent in the authorization to the colleges and universities,” said Kimberly.

And because of T.E.A.C.H., Joe will be able to graduate with his M.Ed. debt-free.

“T.E.A.C.H. has made it possible for me to continually build on my education from an Associate’s in Applied Science to a Master’s in Education without incurring a huge amount of student debt,” said Joe. “Early childhood education is a field in which the professionals are often underpaid and are themselves lacking resources. T.E.A.C.H. provides an avenue to advance education and careers while helping to avoid massive student debt.”

Kimberly finds her part in that process gratifying.

“What I really enjoy most about my position is…developing that one-on-one relationship [with the recipients],” she said. “It really just brings it all together when you’re at a conference or…attending graduations and you get to meet that person face-to-face…Especially at graduation, it makes you feel really proud, because you work with these people for so long, so they made it and they’re done.”

The Economic Impact of T.E.A.C.H.

Kimberly is also proud that T.E.A.C.H. has a wide reach that goes well beyond the scholarship recipient after graduation.

“We are empowering these scholarship recipients to [earn] more education, which in turn, they bring back into their facility, they’re better equipped to teach the children and then the children are ready for school when they start kindergarten.”

Once recipients complete their degree, they increase their marketability in the early childhood education system and may experience growth in their wages as well. In 2018, associate degree scholarship program recipients experienced an 11% increase in their earnings, with a low turnover rate of 8%.

“In addition, it’s increasing the star rating level as far as education goes for those facilities they’re employed in, making them more attractive to families, so increasing business that way,” Kimberly said. “Also, what [T.E.A.C.H.] does in the community…is increase the student enrollment in early childhood education departments [at participating universities and colleges]. So by T.E.A.C.H. sponsoring students at these universities and colleges, there is a positive economic impact on the North Carolina college system.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®️ Scholarship North Carolina, please consider donating today.

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