Every Young Learner Deserves Affordable, High-Quality Education
All around the country, child care workers get up every morning and go to their jobs where they care for, inspire and help raise our youngest learners. They teach our kids how to read, how to hold a pencil, how to take turns and share with their classmates, how to resolve disagreements and so much more.
And yet, at the end of a long, tiring, often thankless day, so many of these professionals go home only to worry about how they will make ends meet.
They are not alone. For too long, education has been put on the back burner: As budgets are slashed in states across the country, too many schools are crumbling, too many students are using old and worn supplies, and too many teachers are not getting paid what they should be for the work they do.
It’s encouraging to see teachers across the country organizing and using their voices to stand together with their unions and demand the tools, and the pay, they need to help our students succeed — and it’s up to all of us, at every level of government, to show that we have their backs. That’s true in K-12 education, which is getting a lot of attention right now, but early childhood educators and child care workers are still being left behind too.
The average child care worker makes a little over $10 an hour, or about $22,290 a year. While the majority of these professionals are low-income women of color with a high school diploma, some have a two-year or even four-year degree — but still many are forced to supplement their salaries with public assistance. When these child care workers are unable to make ends meet, many leave for better-paying jobs in K-12 schools or elsewhere. As a result, our youngest learners and their parents pay the price.
We know the benefits of high-quality early learning and care. The right start in education can lead to a wide range of short- and long-term benefits. Children who have access to high-quality early learning and care are more likely to perform better in school and make more money later in life, and are less likely to commit crimes. Nations across the globe see the same evidence and invest in early childhood education. In the United States, however, too many families struggle to find high-quality care — and those that do often cannot afford the skyrocketing costs. Investing in our youngest learners and the teachers who care for them is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart investment for our economy and our future.
That is why, last year, we introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. Our bill ensures that no family has to pay more than they can afford on child care. It also prepares our youngest learners for success in kindergarten and beyond by expanding access to high-quality preschool for low- and middle-income 3- and 4-year-olds. Finally, to ensure that we are attracting and keeping the very best, our bill would provide child care professionals and preschool teachers with better training and a livable wage.
This bill has broad support in Congress and from parents, teachers and child care workers around the country. We have 30 co-sponsors in the Senate, over 120 co-sponsors in the House and over 40,000 petitions of support from working families.
Just last month, we passed a bipartisan government funding bill with the largest increase ever for child care and a significant increase for Head Start. This is a strong step in the right direction, but our work is not done.
We will keep fighting until the Child Care for Working Families Act is law, and high-quality child care and early learning for all is a reality.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is a former preschool teacher and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.