From birth to age 5, children’s brains grow and develop at a rate unmatched later in life. Research shows this critical window of brain development lays the foundation for all future learning and development.
Positive, attentive and nurturing relationships with their parents and nonparental caregivers are essential to establishing a strong developmental foundation and setting children up for success in school and beyond.
Children under the age of 5 spend more than 30 hours a week with nonparental caregivers, in center- and home-based child care, preschool classrooms, and informal arrangements with family, friends or neighbors. Researchers have found that young children enrolled in high-quality early learning opportunities can reap short- and long-term benefits including: improved literacy and numeracy skills; healthy social and emotional development; decreased enrollment in special education; and higher grade retention and graduation rates.
Attributes of high-quality early learning settings typically include licensure and accreditation, low staff-child ratios and strong parent engagement, among others. Researchers underscore that the professionals who provide care and educate young children are the linchpin to quality and better outcomes.
Early care and education professionals are sometimes referred to as “the workforce behind the workforce,” because reliable child care enables parents to work, attend school or other job training opportunities. Yet, in many communities and states, the demand for child care outweighs supply. Many factors contribute to this shortage, including a lack of qualified and supported early care and education professionals. Along with parents, employers and local policymakers, state legislators across the country are working to address these challenges.
Who Are Early Care and Education Professionals?
There are nearly 5 million early care and education professionals in the United States. These professionals meet children’s most basic needs (e.g., diapering and feeding) implement age-appropriate curriculum and support children’s social, emotional and cognitive development. Home-based care providers, who total 3.8 million professionals, make up the majority of the early care and education workforce. Many home-based providers are also small-business owners and must manage the responsibilities that come with running a business (e.g., banking, purchasing supplies and cleaning) in addition to their caretaking duties.
Although many early care and education professionals have extensive experience (approximately 50% have at least 13 years in the field), they generally earn very low wages. The average wage for early care and education professionals is less than $11 an hour, or just over $22,000 per year. The highest earners are typically prekindergarten teachers in school-based classrooms and the lowest are professionals caring for infants and toddlers. Their working conditions vary by setting and do not necessarily include benefits that are typically available to educators of older children, such as paid time for planning and professional development, retirement and health insurance.
The predominately female (94%) early care and education workforce is more racially and linguistically diverse than K-12 teachers. People of color comprise 40% of early care and education professionals, and 22% are foreign born.
How Are State Policymakers Involved?
How are state policymakers involved in supporting early care and education professionals?
Each year, state legislatures consider legislation to improve the quality and increase access to early learning opportunities in their states. Increasingly, legislators are focusing their efforts on improving the early care and education workforce. Legislation to build a well-qualified and supported early care and education workforce often focuses on the following aspects of workforce development:
- Training, education and professional development.
- Compensation and financial incentives.
States That Have Enacted ECE Workforce Legislation in 2019
Select the purple states on the map to view details about the workforce legislation.
Colorado HB20-1002 | Creates a grant program to provide financial support to existing licensed child care facilities meeting certain requirements that are in danger of closing due to COVID-19. Creates a grant program for new and emerging child care providers to become operational, meet licensing requirements and expand access to licensed child care throughout the state.
Colorado HB20-1053 | Requires state agencies to align multiple early childhood credential and licensing systems. Requires development of resources to increase concurrent enrollment opportunities and support career pathways to becoming an early childhood educator. Allows for technical assistance and financial incentives to help early childhood care providers advance or maintain at least a level 3 rating on the state’s quality rating and improvement system.
Louisiana HB 474 | Requires child care providers to complete an annual training on mandatory reporter laws.
Minnesota HF 4531/SF 4451 | Appropriates up to $450,000 for the state child care resource and referral program to administer emergency grants to licensed child care providers meeting specific eligibility requirements. Requires providers to prioritize care for children of essential workers through Dec. 31, 2020, or until the peacetime public health emergency ends, whichever is first, and to use health and safety practices that prevent the spread of COVID-19 in child care environments.
Minnesota HF 11 Expands the definition of providers and clarifies the authority to waive requirements during a declared disaster for the child care assistance program. Requires a uniform application form for family child care variance requests. Specifies eligibility and clarifies provisions for child care services grants. Clarifies the definition of supervision in child care center settings and requirements for background checks of child care providers. Clarifies training requirements for family and group family child care providers and specifies child care providers as mandatory reporters of child maltreatment. Establishes a multidisciplinary child protection team allowed to provide education, resources and consultation to local agencies.
Virginia HB 5005 Appropriates funding for the child care industry, provision of child care and stabilization grants for child care providers and local community partnerships during the COVID-19 emergency and for child care for certain Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients.
Washington HB 2556 | Requires the implementation of an affordable and community-based instructional program for early learning providers to meet professional education requirements for child care licensure. Creates a work group to study the financial impacts of licensing regulations on child care businesses and the costs and benefits to child care providers that are associated with participation in the state’s quality rating and improvement system.