EARLY EDUCATORS’ SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, AND WELL-BEING are inseparable from the quality of children’s early learning experiences, yet our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable. While a major goal of early childhood services has been to relieve poverty among children, many of these same efforts continue to generate poverty in the early care and education (ECE) workforce, who are predominantly female, ethnically and racially diverse, and often have children of their own. Inadequate levels of public financing and heavy reliance on families to cover the costs of ECE services render professional pay for early educators unattainable.
As stated in Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, a consensus report issued by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine in 2018: “The deficiencies in the current system are hurtful to all children and families in need of ECE options and the adults who are ECE practitioners and educators — who are themselves often in extreme economic distress.” Acknowledging that “for too long the nation has been making do with ECE policies and systems that were known to be broken,” the report calls for a new national financing structure for early care and education. The report establishes a broad consensus among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners that ECE for children from birth to kindergarten entry should be funded as a public good, equivalent to K-12; it then provides a national cost model illustrating the steps needed to meet the reforms envisioned by the 2015 report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation and makes additional recommendations to support the workforce and to provide affordable services for parents. With the National Academies’ 2018 report, the conversation has finally shifted.