A state-by-state review of workforce policies and practices in the early childhood field has found that Vermont is making progress in a few areas but stalling out when it comes to ensuring higher pay for those who work with its youngest residents.
Vermont was not among the states leading the nation in early childhood education policy, according to the review. And while no state met all the criteria in the five categories researchers measured, Oklahoma received top billing in several categories.
The review was done by researchers at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.
Emily Marshia, deputy director at Vermont Birth to Five, a group advocating for high-quality affordable early care and education, said the index is a refreshing state-by-state look at where the field is going. "We can learn a lot from other states in terms of what they are doing right now," she said.
Analysis for the Early Child Care Workforce Index 2016 was performed between February and May. This first issue is meant to be a baseline measurement of early education employment conditions and policies across the states. The next index will be published in 2018.
Researchers found that those working in the early education field are among the lowest-paid employees in the nation. The median hourly pay for child care workers ranged from a low of $8.72 in Mississippi to a high of $12.24 in New York. Nationally, the median wage in the field is $9.77.
From 2010 to 2015, the median hourly wage for child care workers in Vermont increased 1 percent, from $11.10 to $11.25, the researchers said.
"Folks are not able to earn what they need to earn to live a good life in Vermont as well as provide early education. Right now those two things are hard to come by in the same equation," said Marshia.
Teachers who focus on preschool have a median hourly wage that starts at $10.54 in Idaho and spans to $19.21 in Louisiana. The national hourly median in 2015 was $13.74.
In 2015, Vermont beat the national median for both preschool and kindergarten teachers. The state's median rate for a preschool teacher was $14.13 and for a kindergarten teacher was $25.52. The median national wage for kindergarten teachers was $24.83, according to the report.
The researchers also looked at whether states require publicly funded pre-K teachers to receive the same pay as public school teachers in kindergarten through third grade.
Hawaii, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee do have that requirement. Oklahoma also was among states that met another standard — giving supplemental wages or tax credits for early educators — but the policy was the subject of recent budget cuts.
Nationally, researcher Walter Gilliam at Yale University has found that 71 percent of pre-K teachers earn salaries that put them in the low-income category of the federal wage guidelines.
Marshia said the current system in Vermont is not sustainable. The average child care worker in Vermont earns less than $25,000 a year without benefits, she said. "We also know that many Vermont families are spending 40 percent of their income on child care. The way we do it now encourages staff turnover, encourages families to pay more than they are actually able to pay, which causes a decrease in providers and contributes to a shortage in child care in Vermont," she said.
The Early Childcare Workforce Index rates states as either stalled, edging forward or making headway in five areas: qualifications (minimum education requirements); quality rating and improvement system (in Vermont, that is the STAR system) and work environment; compensation strategies; financial resources; and workforce data (collecting and publishing data on programs).
Vermont rated as stalled out on compensation strategies but it made it to "edging forward" on qualifications, financial resources, and quality rating and work environment. Vermont garnered the highest rating of "making headway" for its data collection on early education programs.
The researchers considered two more categories. One had to do with income supports and child care assistance such as tax credits; the other was termed health and well-being supports for workers, such as paid family leave and sick days. Vermont achieved the "making headway" rating in both of these areas.
Vermont's universal pre-K program will be in full swing this school year, but the state is still struggling to fill the demand for early education and child care. Almost half the state's infants and toddlers who are likely to need care don't have access to state-licensed or -registered day care programs, according to "Stalled at the Start," a report by the Let's Grow Kids Campaign.
The same study found that nearly 80 percent of these children don't have access to early care that is considered high quality, and in some parts of the state that number shoots up to 98 percent.
Still, as requirements for pre-K and early education are ratcheting up, a balance must be struck between quality, pay and affordability, according to Marshia. "We need to interact with multiple places in the system at the same time," she said. "We can't wait for one thing in order to start the other. We need a more standardized system in Vermont."
The report was supported with funding by the Foundation for Child Development, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Alliance for Early Success, and the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation.