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When Chris Tryon, who operates a five-star family child care home in Union County, learned that Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® would be available to him and other home-based professionals, he was very excited.

He said, “I was all for it! We spend so much money keeping our programs going and meeting high standards, and I have five stars. AWARD$ would help because I could upgrade my facility, furniture, toys, get a nicer playset. I would reinvest it in my home program and my kids!”

Chris’ first check was mailed at the end of February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard in North Carolina. Now, as with other early educators in the state, Chris is struggling through this new reality.  His regular parents were not considered essential, so they stayed home with their own children. He is now* open for essential workers and says he wants to help if he can, but he has not yet had many children.

Chris wonders what will happen in the future if the children he has served will return. He said they’ve become like his family. His mother always worked with children so he found it natural to do so. He started working when he was young at a child recreation center and kept going from there. When he moved to North Carolina, he started working in a child care center and then opened his own home in 2009.

He said, “The best part of having my own program is that I really get to know the families I serve. I can really share with them about what is happening with their children. Children often stay with me until they go to kindergarten, and I give them stability and familiarity.”

“Being a man in this industry can be challenging,” Chris said. “People who don’t know me tend to think I may not know what I’m doing. They get a little nervous about it. Others embrace it. I tell them it is my profession and I have a lot of experience. My friends call me ‘Gary Poppins,’ and I can embrace that. I can be a positive male role model.”

Chris looks forward to sharing his skills with more families and appreciates that the AWARD$ supplements will continue to offer some support during the COVID-19 crisis.

“My first check was like winning the lottery,” he said.  “Now, knowing that it is coming is wonderful because who knows how long this is going to last? Knowing that I have that cushion means a lot. I really want to thank the Division of Child Development and Early Education for helping out family child care providers.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education funds the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® program in all 100 counties of North Carolina. Learn more about AWARD$ here.

*Interview took place in April, 2020.

by Allison Miller, Compensation Initiatives at CCSA, and Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

The world is an uncertain place right now due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). In response to the pandemic, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund in partnership with Smart Start to help child care programs in North Carolina with urgent and long-term expenses during this time. Once the immediate crisis has passed, the fund may shift its focus to helping families pay for child care.

Amidst these unprecedented times, celebration is likely not the first thing on our minds. However, it is more important now than ever to remember the little things. Did you know National Coffee Day will be celebrated in September 2020? Or that National Donut Day is in June? These days, and many others like them, give us an opportunity to celebrate or enjoy these simple pleasures.

So, what is “Worthy Wage Day,” on May 1, 2020?

While early educators do not earn a worthy wage, this day gives us a chance to celebrate the early educators who work with young children and recognize that earning less than $11 per hour is unacceptable. We hope that teachers, families and communities across the country are taking advantage of this special day to raise their voices and say, “Enough is enough.”

Participants of CCSA’s education-based salary supplement programs, the Child Care WAGE$® Program and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®, often say they could not survive on their hourly wages alone. One teacher said the supplement is necessary for her to stay in early childhood because she was earning $3 more per hour working in retail. Retail jobs are absolutely important to our economy, especially once we reopen our stores and restaurants, but early childhood teachers are the workforce behind the workforce. We see this especially today as our early childhood educators allow our essential workers to be able to go to work during this health pandemic! They deserve to be compensated based on the value they bring. Not only do they allow parents to go to their jobs, but they also build the brains of our youngest children, children who will become citizens, leaders, future parents.

Child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy

The importance of early childhood educators cannot be overstated. The reasons they earn so little are complicated, but basically, parents simply cannot afford the cost of quality care, and without an external source of funding, such as public funding, teacher pay remains low. However, as science continues to illustrate the critical need for educated, stable early childhood teachers, there is hope that the field’s compensation will become front and center as future budget decisions are made. And as COVID-19 continues to spread, as we are experiencing now what the early childhood field has always known – child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy.

What does the research show?

We all know that positive early experiences are the building blocks of brain development and that our early childhood workforce is a critical component of this construction process. Stable and engaging relationships between young children and the adults in their lives can have a lifelong impact. As brain builders, early educators need scaffolding such as quality education, opportunities for professional development and fair compensation. With appropriate support, the early childhood workforce can provide the experiences necessary to build trust and promote learning.

To have quality care for children, teachers must be fairly compensated. A worthy wage would be a wage that acknowledges and celebrates their importance for growth and development in young children and allows them to stay in early childhood as a financially competitive profession. The supplements WAGE$ and AWARD$ offer are designed to recognize their retention and education and help address the salary gap.

Participants and employers know firsthand the importance of these incentives. One director said, “Child care teachers are not paid what they are worth. Therefore, centers have a great deal of turnover. The majority of my staff have been with me for years and I am very proud of that; WAGE$ helps them tremendously with that.”

These supplements would not be possible without the ongoing commitment and funding from local Smart Start partnerships that choose to invest in WAGE$, and the NC Division of Child Development (DCDEE). DCDEE provides funding to help support the administration of Child Care WAGE$® and is the sole funder for Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®.

As one AWARD$ recipient said to DCDEE, “Thank you so much for seeing us for what we’re worth and helping take some financial stress off our plates. I truly feel well taken care of and appreciate the much-needed funds.”

Make it a priority

Teachers are worthy of fair compensation. It isn’t a question. On Worthy Wage Day, especially during the time of COVID-19, make it a priority to share your appreciation with teachers and to say to anyone who will listen that “enough is enough.”

How can you help?

Learn more about how you can help early childhood educators to either continue offering quality care to the children of essential workers or to reopen once it’s safe to, and to get the tools and resources they need during this challenging time.

If you are an early childhood provider

We are especially interested in your comments about how COVID-19 has affected you. You can submit stories of hopeful moments or have the chance to vent challenges by emailing us here.

By Tomonica Rice-Yarborough and Kathy Thornton from CCSA’s Professional Development Initiatives Team

World Teacher’s Day was established in 1994 to recognize and celebrate teachers all over the world for their hard work and dedication. It also brings to light the issues affecting the profession to work toward a resolution for retaining and attracting teachers to the field. This day was founded to celebrate public school teachers, but early care educators also should be recognized on this day because they’re instrumental to the growth and development of our children. Their contributions to society’s economic stability should be valued, recognized and celebrated.

One of the main issues facing early care educators is the little recognition or validation they receive for the pivotal roles they play in the lives and development of young children. As a field, early educators in North Carolina often hold degrees, but they earn significantly less than public school teachers. According to CCSA’s 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, the median wage of center directors in North Carolina was $16.00 per hour, while teachers earned $10.97 per hour and assistant teachers earned $9.97 per hour. 

Although degree attainment has drastically increased in North Carolina, the field as a whole still suffers from being perceived as a high priced “babysitting service.” For 30 years, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program has provided the workforce with access to a debt-free college education while they work as low wage earners teaching future doctors, lawyers, teachers, administrative assistants, scientists…

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 than any other time in our life. Children who are formally cared for in early education settings outside of their homes depend on the early educator to support their developmental growth. Those years are particularly formative, making the role of the early educator even more critical. According to philosopher John Locke, “a child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge.” Early educators play a big part in setting the foundation for our children’s future.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Australia celebrated Early Childhood Educators’ Day to honor and appreciate early childhood educators. The world, like Australia, should have a day set aside to recognize early childhood educators. Sadly, early childhood educators are seldom during the World Teacher’s Day observance. This lends credence to the perception that early childhood education isn’t seen as a worthy profession. Why can’t we dedicate a day of observance to them?

Early education workforce initiatives in North Carolina such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, the Child Care WAGE$® and the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ salary supplement programs and NAEYC’s Power to the Profession are aimed at professionalizing the early care and education field so its members receive the respect, recognition and compensation they so rightly deserve.

Written by Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

Worthy Wage Day

May 1 is an important day for teachers, particularly teachers working with our youngest children. It is a day when we recognize the link between quality early care and education and the wages earned by dedicated teachers. It is a day when we should say loudly that early educators do NOT earn enough. That’s what Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has been saying for decades, and we have programs in place to help support the workforce. We know that compensation matters and early educators deserve worthy wages.

Infant-Toddler Educators Typically Earn the Least

We know our youngest, most vulnerable children desperately need stable and engaging relationships with the adults in their lives. Infant-toddler teachers play a critical role in the successful development of the children they serve and yet they typically earn the least in an already underpaid field. How can these teachers stay in their classrooms when they earn $10 per hour on average in North Carolina? And that rate is $1.39 less than the average hourly rate of those teachers working with preschool-aged children. It is clear that early childhood compensation across the board must be addressed.

Finding Solutions

Parents cannot afford to pay more, so without a significant public investment, we are left with a huge problem. But we cannot let that problem keep us from finding solutions. Early educators deserve worthy wages. Thanks to funding from the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, CCSA now offers Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$. We provide education-based salary supplements to full-time infant-toddler teachers. With this enhanced compensation, teachers can better afford to stay in their positions, giving young children the stability they need.  

Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$

Are you an infant-toddler teacher in North Carolina? Would you like to earn $2,000 to $4,000 more each year? AWARD$ is open to eligible teachers in every county across the state. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis, so get yours in now! Find out how to apply here. Supplements depend upon funding availability.

Since 1994, CCSA has also offered the Child Care WAGE$® Program in participating counties. AWARD$ was modeled on the WAGE$ Program. Participants have often called their supplements “life changing.” Many talk about needing the supplements to survive, to meet the basic needs of their families. 

Early educators deserve more. We rely on them to provide critical care and education to our children. We rely on them so we can go to work and provide for our own families. We cannot let them down. Compensation matters. Let’s all loudly support worthy wages for early educators, not just today, but every day.

For more information, visit: Who’s Caring for Our Babies?