How to restore California’s ailing child care system: Pay the teachers

By Lea Austin for

Covid-19 brought California’s already-ailing child care system to its knees. If you work in child care or are a parent, you are intimately familiar with this reality. If you are making budget and policy decisions in California, you may have missed the urgency of the crisis and the workers at the center of it all. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom, who promoted a transitional kindergarten plan and expansion of child care slots in his State of the State address, has neglected this crisis.

Increasing child care spaces only works if there are child care teachers to fill them.

We’ve lost 8,600 child care jobs and at least 7,200 child care spaces since the onset of the pandemic. Where are the educators going? Even McDonald’s and Walmart pay more than the average California child care wage of $16.43 an hour, with benefits to boot. These unsustainably low wages create a domino effect of rampant economic distressturnover, and child care shortages, driving parents — especially mothers — to leave the labor force because they can’t find child care or can’t afford it. Covid-19 underscored how critical child care is to a healthy economy. This is a direct result of underinvestment and policy failure.

A year ago, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, earmarking funds for child care. California’s share was more than $3.7 billion. My colleagues and I at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment called on states to prioritize use of relief funds for direct cash payments to early childhood educators. Today, at least 28 states are shoring up educator recruitment and retention with relief funds, prioritizing higher worker salaries and benefits or stipends.

Read more here.

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