Delaware Lawmakers Prioritizing Early Care and Education Workforce
In the coming weeks, early childhood workers will be able to access the supplement or “bonus” pay committed in November by Gov. John Carney through American Rescue Plan Act funds. Each early educator will be paid $1,000 upon completing their online profile—which will help the state create its first professional registry, or data system on the workforce. For longtime advocates and educators, it’s gratifying to see this segment of the care economy, who worked through the pandemic to keep families and our economy afloat, receive this recognition of their incredibly hard and important work.
As we have outlined in previous posts, child care workers make minimum wage and often don’t receive benefits; about one half quality for public assistance. One in six early childhood educators have left the field during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving 96 percent of Delaware centers with staffing shortages. These bonuses will begin to offset these low wages and represent another step toward the long-term goal of paying all educators a livable salary and a career path.
Workforce development is another key topic under discussion in the General Assembly. HS 1 for HB 377 would create a “comprehensive support program for early childhood professionals including those employed by a public school,” codifying efforts that have been in place in different forms in recent years. These include scholarships and wage supplements tethered to earning credentials and degrees. Other supports for early educators, to be delivered in partnership with institutions of higher education, include tutoring, counseling, coaching, substitute coverage, and community-based delivery of training, such as on site at a child care center to reduce demands on time and transportation.
One priority remains establishing more alternative routes for educators who have a degree in a field other than early childhood education to become certified. Another goal is to assess which scholarship programs can be leveraged to support the workforce, such as the SEED, SEED+ and INSPIRE scholarships—which have not traditionally been utilized by early educators—and create support to increase utilization of these.
The new bill would also require the creation of a workforce study based on new data from the professional registry. This public report would capture basic data on the number of individuals working in child care, their qualifications, and demographics, helping lawmakers prioritize initiatives and resources.
Another bill recently introduced, HB 410, proposes a refundable tax credit to child care workers, including family child care (home-based care). The bill would provide eight-, 10- and 12-percent credits to child care workers based on their attainment of industry credentials and degrees. It is modeled after a similar policy in Louisiana that saw success with an eight-fold increase in attainment of higher credentials over seven years. Nebraska and Colorado also have implemented a workforce-investment credit to boost wages. For Delaware, this legislative session might produce a strategy to supplement low wages until child care workers can make a livable wage (as recommended by the state target compensation scale, similar to that of K-12 educators, released last year).
Long term, Delaware and other states, in partnership with the federal government, must invest in early care and education at the true cost—and serve many more children with public funding. A significant part of this investment—about 70% of any educational endeavor—is the people who care for and educate our youngest. Thank policymakers for supporting these essential workers and for investing in the future—and tell them to vote for HS 1 for HB 377 and HB 410.