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Child-Care Wages Called Key to Boosting Early-Education Access

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Among working families with children younger than age 5 that pay for child care, average child-care spending amounts to nearly 10% of the average family income, or 40% higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' definition of affordability. (Adobe Stock)
Among working families with children younger than age 5 that pay for child care, average child-care spending amounts to nearly 10% of the average family income, or 40% higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' definition of affordability. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
May 10, 2021

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Early-childhood educators in the state say they support President Joe Biden's American Families Plan, which would include an estimated $200 billion for free universal preschool programs.

However, they argued low wages for workers are a major barrier to expanding high-quality pre-K programming.

Geania Dickey, public policy chair for the Arkansas Early Childhood Association, pointed to research, which showed even before the pandemic, rural early-childhood education centers struggled to pay workers an affordable wage and experienced high staff turnover rates, as high as 96%.

"It's already more expensive than some parents can afford as it is, right?" Dickey explained. "So then, how do you increase the compensation and how do you increase quality?"

On average, child-care workers in the U.S. earn around $11 per hour, and Dickey noted the situation grew worse over the past year as the pandemic forced more centers to shut their doors.

Biden's plan includes an additional $225 billion for child care. Opponents of the proposal say it would increase taxes and hurt the U.S. economy. Biden's proposal would also create a national comprehensive paid family- and medical-leave program.

Dickey believes strong paid-leave policies are needed to fill the gap in access to learning options for toddlers.

"There is so little quality infant and toddler care in this country," Dickey asserted. "And in my state, the only way to get rid of that deficit in access is to provide family leave."

She added higher-quality centers tend to employ staff with better qualifications, which increases spending for compensation and benefits, and emphasized retirement and health-care plans are often needed to retain teachers.

Dickey contended access to four-year or community college is viewed as a public good, and believes access to preschool should be viewed the same way.

"So I think it's thinking about early education in that way," Dickey remarked. "How can we support that infrastructure and really provide a foundation?"

More than 9,000 Arkansas kids are estimated to receive child-care subsidies each month, provided through the state's Child Care and Development Fund.

But Dickey stressed current financial reimbursement options for child care still aren't enough to meet the increasing cost.

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