|Tomorrow’s Leaders Make their Case to Today’s Lawmakers
The yellow school bus pulled up to the office of state Representative Jenn O’Mara and a gaggle of pre-k students made their way inside with excited questions and contagious giggles.
They listened as attentively as three- and four-year-olds can while Rep. O’Mara read two books and showed them around. The Step By Step Learning Center teachers kept a watchful eye on the kids and used every opportunity to reinforce learning.
“Yes, that is a blue square. Good job!”
“No, we don’t push our way in. We wait for our turn.”
“Who can tell me what that word means? Raise your hand if you know the answer.”
The three teachers – as the saying goes – earned their pay that day. Early childhood teachers earn their pay every day across the Commonwealth but, because of insufficient state support, too many of them don’t even make a living wage.
The median hourly wage of a preschool teacher in Pennsylvania is $13.96; for child care workers, it’s only $10.69. Fast food restaurants and big box stores offer higher wages for jobs that are less intense. No disrespect to retail workers, but it’s less taxing to ring up a purchase than to be responsible for a child’s physical and mental development.
The pay is so low that, nationally, early childhood teachers are going hungry. Nearly half of lower-income child care providers (below 200% FPL) experienced the highest levels of hunger during the pandemic, compared to 30% of middle-income and 14% of higher-income providers.
It’s no surprise then when we hear reports that child care providers are having a real challenge recruiting and retaining workers, which leads to fewer classrooms for young kids. A survey of PA providers found that 34,000 additional children could be served at the respondents’ sites if they were fully staffed. Half of the providers had closed at least one classroom and nine out of 10 reported staffing shortages.
Children First is part of a statewide campaign that is pushing for a $2/hour raise for child care workers, costing $115 million in combined state and federal funding (a paltry sum when you consider the state is sitting on $9.7 BILLION in surplus). This small increase will attract new workers, keep the current ones, and reduce staff turnover which negatively impacts child development and results in classroom/program closures that disrupt families’ ability to work.
The campaign is also calling for an additional $70 million in pre-k funding to open up spaces for 2,308 more children and increase rates for full- and half-day slots. These rate increases are necessary to support the workforce and address rising costs for providers.
The visit to Rep. O’Mara’s office showed how valuable early education teachers are to a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. Rep. O’Mara herself applauded the teachers for their skill in caring for the kids and declared her continued support for more pre-k funding.
Maybe the yellow school bus should make a stop to the majority leaders’ offices at the State Capitol next.