With the May budget revision, Governor Newsom failed once again to support the early education workforce that is the backbone of California’s economy. Despite a record budget, the people who do the actual work of caring for and teaching our youngest children will continue to be paid some of the lowest wages in the state.
The lack of action remains perplexing, especially given the staffing shortages that plague the early care and education (ECE) field and prevent families—especially mothers—from accessing the child care that enables them to work.
The budget proposal of $6.3 billion for child care, which includes federal pandemic relief funds, has important provisions for programs that already receive public dollars for child care. For example, reimbursing providers based on enrollment rather than attendance, funding additional child care slots, and adjusting reimbursement rates all help stabilize programs. Yet, these funds are limited to child care programs that receive public subsidies, which reach only a fraction of children in the state.
There is no shortage of where to look for solutions. At least half of the states in the U.S. have taken action to support the ECE workforce with higher salaries and benefits or financial relief stipends. Minnesota, for example, requires that 70% of American Rescue Plan grants to child care programs be used for staff compensation or financial relief payments. New Mexico prioritized stipend payments to all child care workers before the American Rescue Plan even existed. Washington state has allocated more than $66 million for compensation and health coverage for child care workers.
The bottom line is that if compensation is not addressed, early care and education programs will continue to struggle to recruit and retain staff. Without a stable workforce, other ECE investments are futile.