Early Education Heroes Deserve the Hero Treatment

By: Mindy Binderman for Saporta Report

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, few workers have been as essential as Georgia’s early education professionals. They have been on the front lines, working tirelessly to teach, love, and care for our youngest learners and allowing their parents to work. These early childhood educators deserve our recognition and support. 

With that in mind, we applaud the announcement from Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs that $1,000 supplemental payments would be provided to eligible Pre-K teachers, assistant teachers, and child care staff in Georgia. 

“These supplemental payments are a small, but tangible way of expressing our thanks to our early care and education teachers,” said Commissioner Jacobs. “You can’t put a price on the confidence and peace of mind of knowing that your children are being well cared for and educated even in the most challenging times, but we have that confidence here in Georgia.”

This was an important step in recognizing the importance of early childhood educators, many of whom have faced unprecedented challenges serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Early childhood educators, especially those teaching infants and toddlers, typically make significantly less than their counterparts in similar professionals. 

GEEARS and our partners will continue to advocate for ways to ensure those who work in child care and early education are appropriately and meaningfully compensated. A large majority of Georgians support this notion. In fact, a poll of likely Georgia voters that we commissioned last year found that 88% support ensuring those who work in child care and early education are paid a salary comparable to elementary school teachers with the same credentials and experience. Seventy support of the respondents say they “strong support” reducing this pay gap. 

We can also honor these frontline heroes by prioritizing Georgia’s child care workforce in the state’s plan to distribute FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. 

Currently, Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine distribution plan lists “essential workers (non-healthcare) who  perform job tasks across critical infrastructure sectors.” We recently joined with our partners across the state to request the explicit inclusion of child care and early learning professionals in this next phase. Like other educators, child care professionals must be prioritized within this process, especially with thousands of children and families depending on their services each day.  

The child care and early education industry also needs support like never before. Providers were already operating on thin margins before COVID-19, and the pandemic has made things even more difficult as class sizes have been reduced and the added costs of PPE and other health safety measures have piled up. In fact, a survey conducted recently by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found that around 40% of child care providers polled were certain that they will close permanently without additional public assistance.  

GEEARS and our national partners have been urging Congress to provide tens of billions more in funding for the industry. Last December’s relief bill provided a down payment of $10 billion, and President Joe Biden has proposed an additional $40 billion as part of his proposed COVID-19 relief package. Of this new funding, $25 billion would be allocated towards an emergency stabilization fund to help providers pay rent, utilities, and payroll. Another $15 billion would go to the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG) that states like Georgia could use to offer child care subsidies to more families, or increase the pay of our early education workers. Georgia voters overwhelmingly approve of this assistance. Our poll found 86% of voters support targeted financial assistance to the child care industry. 

The pandemic has shown us just how essential our early educators are. It’s time we deliver the support these heroes deserve.