Over the past few years, bipartisanship has become more like a folklore practice than any political reality that runs through legislative buildings today. So it means something when elected officials in the US unanimously vote in favor of the bill.
And that meant something earlier this month when the Maine Legislature voted 130 against 0 on the proposal to supplement the salaries of child workers.
This level of buy-in and support is becoming increasingly rare. But after two years of a pandemic that has raised awareness of the problems of childcare workers, as well as exacerbated them, many Americans are better aware of how valuable – and yet underestimated – young educators. This also applies to politicians.
Pandemic funding has helped ease some of the burden on the ground by allowing childcare programs, which in many cases are private small businesses, to remain open and giving providers a little extra money to raise the salaries of their staff. . But it was not a panacea. Funds, such as those provided by President Biden’s U.S. Rescue Plan, are valid. This is not something that child care providers or workers can count on indefinitely.
Many in the field along with advocates, parents and the general public looked to Biden Build back better plan to provide a more permanent solution. The bill contains a number of provisions that improve the conditions for preschool children and the workforce, including the establishment of a higher minimum wage for those who work in children’s institutions (the average wage in the country is about $ 11.65 per hour). It will also alleviate some of the financial burden on the part of parents, who in some cases pay more for childcare each month than they spend on housing.
However, within a few months, Build Back Better was discontinued in Congress. With a blocked Senate and a few critical restraints, its future is uncertain. And in this case it is not just a cunning political conversation. Uncertainty means that parents, health workers and pre-school educators everywhere remain in limbo, parents cannot afford quality care, and staff cannot cover their basic costs with wages close to poverty.
“It comes down to dollars and cents”
Maine is one of a number of states that have moved to higher pay for those working in preschool.
In Maine, the state legislature has approved – and the governor has signed – more than $ 12 million in current funding in addition to paying all child care workers in the state. In fact, it is about $ 200 more per month per teacher.
“It doesn’t change lives,” says Dan Vuori, senior director of early learning Institute of Hunting“but it’s an important step, a way to recognize that childcare is an industry that allows you to work in all other areas.”
Ryan Facto, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Maine and sponsor of the bill, admits that this supplement does not lead to where it should be, the pay of young children. (In Maine, the average salary of a childcare worker in 2019 $ 12.89 per houraccording to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.)
“It’s a workforce that has historically been far away, too underestimated for the work they do,” Facto says. “I don’t think the legislature can pass wage supplements that would reflect the true value of this workforce. This is the impetus that will stabilize the industry. “
But Fecto insists the increase is not insignificant. He had heard from childcare workers across the state who quit their jobs in early care and education – jobs they loved and felt “encouraged,” he notes, “for a department store or restaurant on the road that could would offer for a couple of dollars over an hour. “For many childcare workers, it comes down to dollars and cents.”
From the governor’s office approval from an additional budget last week, Maine made permanent these investments, which first went into effect last year using the U.S. bailout plan and were due to end in the fall.
“We want people to understand that preschool is not a babysitter,” adds Fecto. “This is an important job for families and child development. By making these nationwide investments of $ 12.5 million, we are making it clear to childcare workers, families and employers that this is a job that is critical to everything we do in society. And I hope we pass on the message to future childcare workers that this is a profession that can be viable for them. ”
The states are no longer waiting
Neighboring states in the north-eastern corridor are considering – or have already adopted – their own legislation to help childcare workers. Efforts are underway in Massachusetts and New York, Voory says – and indeed in the states across the country introduced bills or are considering the issue. In Washington, DC, the city council recently approved lump sum payments $ 10,000 to $ 14,000 for childcare workers is one step in a broader plan aimed at raising wages in the industry.
Connecticut is considering its own payroll allowances for young children, although the results of the budget debate in the state legislature are still hanging by a thread, says Maggie Adyer, Connecticut’s director of government and public relations for early childhood. The legislative session closes on Wednesday, May 4th.
“For the first time in a long time, lawmakers really understand the clear need to raise wages,” says Ader.
She adds: “It’s not just Connecticut. This is a national problem. Preschool workers are some of the lowest paid workers of any job. This is a structural problem – a destroyed market system. You can’t ask parents to pay more. They are also tied. ”
The Connecticut budget debate reflects greater public awareness and understanding now of early childhood education. But they also point to the need to make permanent funding that has been available to preschool educators since the beginning of the pandemic.
Deb Fleece, co-director of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, talks about the “benefit gaps” faced by child care providers in the not-too-distant future, given the temporary nature of U.S. rescue funds.
“Staff are facing a drop in this funding, so they can’t plan for it and can’t live on it for a long period of time,” Fleiss explains. “It can take care of some really critical spending and help them stay on the job they’re working on, but when those dollars run out, this legislative package becomes really important.”
Voire from the Hunt Institute believes that there is still a “high probability” that Congress will somehow act on early childhood, although the details – if, what, how – remain unclear. “I would be very surprised if Congress did not take some significant action in eight months,” he said.
However, Vuori adds, the situation remains as unpredictable as before. In the meantime, the efforts of the states are encouraging and significant.
He notes, “I think it’s a reflection on how important [child care] on the labor force and on the state economy ”.