A new joint report by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California, Berkeley, finds that California’s early care and education (ECE) system is drastically underfunded. The report addresses low teacher pay and inadequate financial and professional supports for ECE in order to give working parents dependable, affordable, and high-quality child care—in a plan which could be replicated nationally.
The report’s authors, EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould, CSCCE Co-directors Marcy Whitebook and Lea J.E. Austin, and EPI Data Analyst Zane Mokhiber propose a budget with an annual cost of $29.7–$75.4 billion, or $30,000–$37,000 per child. Additionally, because of the increased demand anticipated when the system is in place, the authors estimate an additional one-time investment for recruiting and training of teachers of $3.0–$9.7 billion.
“Policymakers and other stakeholders have the opportunity to ensure that teaching young children, performed mostly by women of color, is valued and respected. Unfortunately, low pay and poor working conditions reduces the quality of care that children receive,” said Gould. “Young children, families, and workers all deserve an early child care and education system that works for them.”
The report also lays out principles for an effective ECE system, which includes offering teachers fair good wages, benefits, and working conditions, limiting classroom size, and providing teachers time to address other professional responsibilities, such as planning activities and communicating with parents.
The authors argue that this plan will ensure California has a skilled and stable ECE workforce that can deliver high-quality services and meet growing demand. Instituting this model would also remove barriers to work and increase employment and earnings among parents, particularly mothers. Children entering older grades with a solid early childhood foundation will be more likely to be successful in school. Further, adequate levels of funding to support education and professional development for early educators can help address wage disparities within the occupation and relative to teachers of older children. Finally, investing in the true costs of quality early care and education services would create opportunities for those young people who would gladly pursue a career in ECE—if it offered a pathway to the middle class, rather than poverty.
“It’s well-documented that the workforce heavily subsidizes the cost of early care and education services with their low wages,” said Whitebook. “Let’s get over sticker shock and be realistic about the cost when educators are justly paid.”
Today also marks the release of EPI’s latest series of interactive fact sheets that detail the high cost of child care in every state. Using the most recent data available from a variety of sources, EPI examines how the cost for infant and four year-old care fits into a family’s typical budget, how it can be out of reach for even middle-income families, and is often more expensive than rent and in-state tuition for a four-year public college. The fact sheets also provide details on how much better off families and the economy would be in each state if there was an ambitious investment in high quality and affordable care as detailed in the report.