A "Worthy Wage" for WA Early Childhood Teachers
SEATTLE - May 1 traditionally is a rallying day for workers' rights - and it's also known as "Worthy Wage Day," an effort to improve wages and benefits for early childhood teachers and center directors.
According to the latest federal data, most workers in this field make poverty-level wages - 77 percent of full-time workers and 61 percent of part-timers.
Lois Martin, an early-learning center director in Seattle, said they've seen the strides made in other care-giving professions in collective bargaining with the state - and early learning is heading slowly but steadily in that direction.
"If we don't take care of our teachers, it's like not taking care of our roads - eventually, it will crumble," she said. "No matter how much money we put in early achievers and push for quality, it will not happen if we do not invest in our educators."
Even being able to have health-care coverage would be a small victory for early-learning center directors and staff members, she said. According to the federal General Accounting Office, Washington child-care workers make about $11 an hour, and preschool teachers earn slightly more than $14 an hour.
Emma Gordon, lead organizer for Washington Educators in Early Learning, part of AFT Washington, said legislation is necessary to allow early learning centers to organize. It's been introduced three times but hasn't passed. In the meantime, she said, turnover is among the toughest challenges for providers.
"It's very difficult to stay in this as a profession, which is also the biggest problem with early learning - because consistency in your care providers is one of the biggest indicators of quality," she said. "When someone can't stay in the profession because of how low their pay is, and they have no benefits and there's no career track for 'em, they leave."
Martin said early learning as a whole gets mixed messages from the Washington Legislature, which she thinks are confusing to parents as well as providers.
"As we look at increasing ECEAP slots for children - which is wonderful, we definitely need to do that - but at the same time, they're looking at cutting benefits to Working Connections child care, which is where a majority of providers receive their funding," she said.
ECEAP - the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program - is the state-subsidized preschool program in Washington.
A new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research says state budget cuts across the nation have brought early-childhood program funding to its lowest level in 10 years.
The reports are online at aft.org and nieer.org.