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Survey: Low Pay for Early Child Educators Imperils WA Centers

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Nearly nine in 10 early-education facilities in Washington state said low wages make it difficult to hire qualified staff. (Seattle City Council/Flickr)
Nearly nine in 10 early-education facilities in Washington state said low wages make it difficult to hire qualified staff. (Seattle City Council/Flickr)
November 28, 2018

SEATTLE - Low pay for early-childhood educators and caregivers is creating a dire situation for many Washington state care centers and families, according to a new report.

The Economic Opportunity Institute surveyed more than 500 center directors and found poor compensation leads to high turnover rates, unfilled positions and the need to limit enrollment. They said subsidies also are too low, keeping early care from being affordable for many families.

John Burbank, executive director of the institute, said most new workers in this field make a little more than minimum wage.

"They are actually working themselves into poverty," he said. "And the cost of tuition is very high - in some cases, $2,000 a month for one child - so that it really jeopardizes the financial security of the family."

The mean salary for child-care workers was $27,800 in 2017. More than half the centers said they had an unfilled position at the time of the survey, and nearly nine in 10 centers cited "low wages" as the reason it's difficult to hire qualified staff. About one-third of facilities said they had to limit enrollment in the past year or two because they couldn't find enough staff.

Burbank said Washington state should treat early-childhood education much the same way it does kindergarten and higher grades. A legislative task force is expected to suggest in December that early-childhood educators and caregivers be compensated like kindergarten teachers. Another legislative group is working on affordability and how to reduce tuition costs.

Burbank said early learning is an integral building block for children.

"If we refuse to find the funding," he said, "then we're doing a fundamental disservice to not just ourselves, but our children and our future, as a state and as an economy."

The institute also did case studies on 15 care facilities across the state. All 15 facility directors said the Working Connections Child Care subsidy, which helps low-income families afford care, needs to be increased to allow children from all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses access to high-quality care.

The survey is online at opportunityinstitute.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA