In Vermont, teachers who work in early learning tend to have satisfaction with their jobs. What they don't have is good pay unless they work in the public schools, according to a report from the Department for Children and Families.
Reeva Murphy, deputy commissioner of the department's Child Development Division, said she has known for a long time that the people who work in this field are truly committed.
"Ninety percent of respondents said they are satisfied, very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their job, and many said they plan to continue working in the field. That was encouraging to me because that means the investments we are making in professional development will continue to benefit the children of Vermont," Murphy said.
The report is based on three surveys of those who work with children in day care and preschool up through third grade as well as those in after-school programs up to age 14, according to Murphy.
Workers in public school programs and private centers as well as family child care providers were surveyed as part of Vermont's Early Learning Challenge grant. The idea was to take a snapshot of what is happening in the field to get a baseline and see what is working and what could be changed to support high-quality early care and learning.
The results showed that public school programs had the most-qualified and best-paid instructors, while child care that is based in family homes had the least-educated and lowest-paid workers.
The findings are in line with national studies that have said child care workers have few benefits, if any, and many live below the poverty line.
Nearly 80 percent of Vermont's public school survey respondents hold higher degrees, with 23 percent having a bachelor's degree in early childhood or a related field and 45 percent holding a master's in the subject.
In contrast, the majority of family providers have a high school degree or a GED, while 23 percent of respondents said they have some college. The survey found that family-based caregivers often pursue alternative pathways through certifications such as the child development associate credential.
Murphy said research indicates that the education level of the teacher has a direct impact on outcomes for the children. "What we know is that education is associated with higher quality and better outcomes. What isn't conclusive in the evidence is exactly what level of education is optimal," she said.
Pre-kindergarten and early learning programs in public schools pay better than those in private centers or family homes. In fact, the median hourly wage for survey respondents was $2.18 lower than the statewide median hourly wage of $17.39 for all jobs. In 2014, the median net profit for family home providers was $3,066 below the poverty threshold for a family of two, which is $15,730.
Public school respondents made more than $8 above the state median hourly wage for all jobs, averaging about $25.50 an hour. Public school workers also have access to comprehensive benefits that those working in private and family-based settings do not, according to the survey.
Respondents said low pay and the lack of benefits are the reasons people might leave the field.
Murphy said she wasn't surprised that the majority of respondents across all three surveys were female (between 87 and 94 percent), although, she said, more men are coming into the early childhood and elementary school workforce.
"Culturally it has been a pathway women have taken. Women tend to accept low-wage jobs more often than males do in our society," Murphy said.
The report notes that one potential issue with the findings is a low response rate — estimated at below 30 percent — which it says calls into question the representative nature of the people who participated.
Murphy said she was disappointed in the response rate. "I would have liked a larger sample overall of the workforce that we have," she said.