Seattle’s working families need city’s early learning initiatives

Guest Opinion: Providing sustainable wages and benefits to early childhood workers is key to narrowing the achievement gap.
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John Bancroft

Guest Opinion: Providing sustainable wages and benefits to early childhood workers is key to narrowing the achievement gap.

Regardless of which candidate people support for mayor, recent polls conducted by KIRO TV and Strategies 360 show that Seattle families overwhelmingly support early learning initiatives. That’s good news for Seattle’s kids and the entire community.

Sixty-eight percent of people polled in the KIRO TV poll said they favored providing universal preschool in Seattle. The majority of respondents in the Strategies 360 poll said they also supported a publicly-funded preschool program based on parent income and a variety of revenue sources.

There’s also strong support from a Seattle coalition of community and labor that favor initiatives launched last month by Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council. The coalition includes such groups as the Children’s Alliance, Solid Ground, the NAACP, unions, parents, teachers and child-care providers in Seattle.

The science is clear: The first three years of life are critical to a child’s lifelong learning. Access to universal pre-kindergarten and quality early learning and care hinges on our commitment to finding more sustainable funding sources. These investments will foster a more stable working environment for teachers and providers. The coalition believes the city’s proposed initiative can provide increased and stable funding that will:

  • Reduce high turnover rates for teachers and providers.
  • Provide funding for  universal pre-kindergarten.
  • Expand city child-care services  for low-income families.
  • Improve the quality and outcomes of early learning services.

As interested parties, including parents, early learning professionals, advocates and labor unions move forward to improve the profession, the early-learning teacher stabilization policy being implemented by the city is designed to decrease staff turnover and prevent disruption of services. Stabilization agreements can set the stage for service providers and staff to focus together on accessing increased resources from public sources, allowing vulnerable populations to get better services. Such agreements are used routinely by local governments to protect and enhance services to senior citizens and other groups needing assistance. Dealing with this challenge is especially important at a time when the city is considering a major expansion of its early learning and child-care services. We know from experience that when a labor stabilization policy is in effect, families and children served by unionized providers pay no more than families receiving non-union services.

Research shows that delivering consistent early learning and care is a key element to eliminating the achievement gap for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that children at centers with low staff turnover demonstrated stronger language and pre-math skills and emotional development than those with high staff turnover. It will come as no surprise to parents that having a consistent caregiver for their children is crucial to high quality early learning and care.

Research also shows that increased compensation for early learning staff, currently some of the lowest paid workers in our society, is directly connected to improving the effectiveness of early learning services. The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University found that a key factor in increasing quality in preschools is to “raise teacher salaries and benefits to levels similar to those of their K-12 counterparts.” Right here in Washington, the Department of Early Learning just released a study showing that the primary cost for early learning programs to provide higher levels of quality care is “better qualified staff and higher compensation levels.”

Many early learning providers who serve Seattle neighborhoods with low-income families ironically must restrict access to these families because they cannot shoulder the cost of care. At the same time, teachers often work for minimum wage with no benefits, while family child-care providers receive inadequate fees. As a result, many effective providers are forced out of the profession in order to provide for their own children and families. Children suffer from a lack of stability when the teacher they are attached to leaves. As any parent can tell you, it is simply not acceptable to have their child’s teachers turn over at a rate of 25-40 percent a year.

Early learning teachers and providers cannot achieve stability without sustainable wages and benefits that allow them to stay in the profession they love. When we support stabilization of our early learning and child-care workforce, we support thriving kids and Seattle’s working families and businesses. Whether or not we are parents of young children, we need to support investments in early learning because it is crucial to our economy and democracy.


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