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State and National Experts Lead Conversation on Minimum Wage and ECE

Improving compensation is central to the improvement of the ECE sector. Wages in the field are significantly depressed — a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute showed more than half a million child care workers would benefit from a $15 minimum wage in 2025.

Campaigns to raise the minimum wage have gained momentum in states over recent years. Since 2014, 28 states and DC have changed their minimum wage laws, with the latest coming in the form of a ballot initiative in Florida just this past November. The federal minimum wage is again a topic of debate in 2021.

Increasing the minimum wage could negatively impact early childhood education (ECE) programs, since most providers struggle to raise wages without charging families more or stretching their budget even thinner, at the expense of their programs’ viability and quality. 

While this issue isn’t new to the field, the search for solutions comes at a time when, after living under a pandemic for more than a year, providers and educators are clamoring for transformative change. The unprecedented financial resources from the federal relief packages could also present an opportunity for progress.

In June, we brought together numerous diverse voices for this series of conversations about the addressing the competing pressures of increasing compensation and supporting providers and families. We also heard several practical examples from the state of New Mexico.

 

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The discussion elevated four critical ingredients that go into an advocacy strategy for meeting the minimum wage challenge – and to increasing early childhood educators’ compensation generally:

    • Organize the collective voices and power of the early childhood education profession.
    • Invest in ECE workforce data capacity and cost analysis that incorporates higher wages.
    • Cultivate inside champions in the governor’s office, legislature, and agency.
    • Become familiar with tax and revenue issues and advocate for promising strategies to generate new funding for ECE.

The first conversation, Voices from the Field, Daisy Lira, Director of the Bumblebee Learning Center in New Mexico, and Meghan Tavormina, Executive Director at the Learning Path Preschool and President of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children, both shared stories from the early care and education front lines. They shared real stories about how these pressures play out in centers. Both reminded us that an increase in minimum wage has broader financial impact on ECE operations because providers find themselves needing to pay all staff better to avoid wage compression. They also often see higher charges from vendors and contractors who provide auxiliary services.

We pivoted to a discussion about Building a Coalition, and heard from Dominique Sanders, Field Director at Main Street Alliance and Matthew Henderson, Executive Director at the OLÉ Education Fund. They talked to us about the powerful of inclusive coalitions – and highlighted the hallmarks of strong coalitions. These included bringing all of the voices together early in the process of agenda setting. The more engaged small businesses, like ECE providers, are in the early stages of minimum wage campaigns, the more opportunities they have to help design policies that take their challenges into consideration. The panelists also emphasized the importance of patience for the decades of work it often takes to develop relationships with diverse stakeholders, identify common goals among differing interests, and achieve transformative change.

We then heard from guests about Data Capacity and Infrastructure. Caitlin McLean, Senior Research Specialist at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, and Claire Dudley Chavez, Division Director of Policy, Research, and Quality Initiatives at the (new!) New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department, shared how critical strong data is – both in showing where compensation actually is in the state, as well as in modeling costs for improvements – in informing state-level strategies to increase compensation.

As we began to look more to the future, we had a broader conversation about Developing Policy/Funding Strategies and Political Will, and our group of experts was joined by Michael Weinberg, Policy Officer at the Thornburg Foundation. He spoke of the years of advocacy that cultivated inside champions for early childhood education in the governor’s office, legislature, and agencies. This work created the enabling conditions for creating policy solutions and, just as important, finding new revenue strategies to implement them.

 

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