Taking the Step Towards Equitable Wages
(Originally Published in HFP Newsletter — Spring 2010)
By Susie Skousen Goodell
What is a quality early childhood program and how much does it really cost? Many different factors make for a good early childhood program.
Some indicators of quality are:
• happy and thriving children,
• families who are viewed as partners in care,
• small group sizes,
• low adult/child ratio,
• educated and experienced teachers.
In order to attract and retain qualified teachers, the program should offer competitive pay and benefits, including health benefits. Unfortunately, most early childhood programs struggle with offering teachers reasonable salaries because in most cases, the majority income of the program comes from tuition.
Everyone suffers when salaries remain low. Teachers subsidize the program with their low wages. They often leave the field altogether. Children and families deal with high turnover rate and poorly qualified teachers when salaries remain low.
The quickest and the seemingly easiest way to increase the income of the program is to increase group size which increases the program’s income. But everyone suffers from this option as well. Larger groups often lead to more regimented routines, less flexibility, and children receiving less individualized attention. Teachers have to stretch even farther to meet the needs of children and families which contributes to their own “burnout.”
In most cases, the government does not offer any financial support to early childhood programs as it does for schools for older children and young adults. So, while we know that early childhood is a fundamental period in the development of human beings, it is not supported by public funding. It’s up to us, as parents and teachers of young children, to urge our local and national government to designate taxpayer dollars to support early childhood programs for all young children.
At HFP, we are part of a early childhood community that offers an exceptional program for our young children. Susan has twenty years of experience in the field and has completed her master’s coursework in human development. She is a fully qualified teacher who is gifted in working with adults and children. We are privileged to be a part of such a community that offers so much to us and our children.
This year, we’ve taken a step in the direction of supporting the full price of quality. During our contract negotiations, it became clear that we want to compensate our teacher fairly and be a program that families can afford. Our community voted to raise tuition to support an improved salary for our teacher. Although the salary increase is still not at a rate that reflects the qualifications and work of our teacher, it’s a step in the right direction. Our progressive move has prompted other cooperative preschools to examine the possibility of moving toward more equitable wages as well.
We also agreed to try a new sliding scale method for charging tuition. A wide range of incomes exist and families differ in how much they can afford to pay in tuition. Adopting the sliding scale model makes it possible for each family to pay what they can afford and a sliding scale enables us to draw families with a range of income levels. Tuition assistance continues to be available to families as needed.
To reach the full cost of quality, early childhood teachers must be paid a fair and equitable wage. As it stands, early childhood teachers are paid far less than public school teachers, who should also be paid more. Early childhood teachers make far less than paralegals, computer technicians, medical record clerks, and many other professions. Does our society place more value on computer health and record keeping than on our children? Salary comparisons certainly seem to reflect that we do. Fair compensation for teachers and good quality programs are goals worth working toward. Children and their teachers are worth it.
Susan Eisman and the families of HFP are leaders in the movement to create greater equity for early childhood professionals. Susan has provided other local co-op educators with valuable information about HFP’s teacher advocacy work. In turn, many of us have passed that information on to our Boards with the hope of raising awareness and increasing action.
I am inspired by the outcome of your work to create a sustainable quality program model, but even more inspiring to me is the process that HFP is taking to get there. —Sandy Hodge, Hancock Street Preschool