In this week’s Advocate Virtual Forum, we covered one of this year’s hottest topics: compensation for early childhood educators. Panelists Laura Hogan with National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Brenda Hagan with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, Jennifer Washburn with iKids Childhood Enrichment Center, and Kevin Fields with Louisville Central Community Centers discussed the challenge’s child care providers are facing, issues facing the early childhood workforce, and potential solutions to common workforce problems.

Child care providers have faced significant challenges since the start of the pandemic, when childcare facilities were mandated to shut down. Many centers across Kentucky have closed, and centers that have remained open have faced significant staffing issues. As we reported in our September blog, roughly half of child care providers reported reduced hours and staffing, one-third reported turnover, and decades of low compensation means that Kentucky’s early childhood workers with Bachelor’s degrees earn 38.1% less than their K-12 colleagues.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many problems for child care providers, which turned into problems for parents and the greater workforce. An analysis by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found that as child care centers shut down, the workforce participation rate for mothers fell more sharply than the participation rate for other groups and has struggled to recover. On a national scale, 24% of Americans cite child and family care as a key reason for not looking for work.

Kentucky has taken several steps to mitigate these impacts and strengthen the early childhood workforce, including launching an early childhood apprenticeship program and dedicating significant portions of the American Rescue Plan to offer financial incentives to childcare providers who raise staff wages. However, more investments are needed on the state and federal levels to stabilize and strengthen the early childhood workforce.

On the federal level, Congress can invest in the early childhood sector in the Infrastructure Bill. Our partners at NAEYC have several resources for advocates to engage with their Members of Congress around childcare and workforce supports:

In the upcoming state legislative session beginning in January, policymakers should invest in the early childhood workforce through the budget. Advocates can advocate for child care with the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly by:

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the need for serious investments in Kentucky’s early childhood sector, and legislators in Kentucky and Washington should seize the opportunity to strengthen this critical sector. Our youngest Kentuckians are counting on it.