The COVID-19 pandemic and the latest omicron wave have exacerbated many of the longstanding challenges facing the early care and education profession, as child care programs and families alike have wrestled with staffing shortages and temporary closures. But the pandemic has also led many to better appreciate the irreplaceable work conducted each day by Georgia’s hard-working early childhood educators. That’s why GEEARS was so pleased to see $2,000 increases to the base salaries of lead and assistant teachers in Georgia’s Pre-K Program in the FY23 budget introduced by Governor Kemp and currently being considered by the legislature. Such an investment is particularly critical for Pre-K assistant teachers, who have been left out of significant increases in recent years and make a base rate of only approximately $16,000 a year. We were also pleased to see federal COVID relief funds dedicated to $1,000 bonuses for members of the child care workforce.
However, for parents to go to work and children to have access to high-quality early learning programs, it is crucial that we continue to find ways to support and retain early childhood educators, especially those teaching and caring for the youngest Georgians. According to the National Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the average hourly wage for a child care worker in Georgia is $9.37/hour. Nationally, data from the U.S. Department of Labor show that the child care workforce is still down 108,100 jobs (10.3%) from pre-pandemic totals. Child care programs cannot enroll children if no teachers are in the classrooms.
Early childhood educators report that the forces driving them away from the field include lack of support, resources, and compensation—issues that have only deepened in the context of the pandemic. While the child care workforce challenge is a complex one, we can and must do more to support these educators who teach and nurture our young children each day while we also work to make child care more affordable for families. Adequate public investment and state and local policies that appropriately prepare, support, and compensate the early education workforce are needed to attract and retain early educators, ensuring they can focus on the children they care for and teach.
Want to learn more about this important issue? Join GEEARS and the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education for the upcoming Critical Issues Forum: Protecting Investments in Early Learners on March 9th.