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
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.
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:
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  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.  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.  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.  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. 
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,  the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year,  18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300.  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,  65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working  and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working.  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. 
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. 
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. 
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