The cost of daycare can drive a family into poverty before a child reaches kindergarten, but it’s also likely to impoverish her teacher first. While preschool programs are expanding nationwide, somehow, they cost parents everything while paying teachers nothing simultaneously. And childcare providers are so underfunded overall that the system leaves both teachers and families impoverished.
Edie Reichard, a childcare center director in Hamden, CT, sees all sides of the struggle, as she stretches sliding-scale fees and government grants to the breaking point: “We have parents who even have a hard time paying the $8 a week…. Since they pay so little, and our grant is only enough to really just barely cover salaries, but not insurance or anything like that, we can’t pay our staff what they deserve.”
Teachers bear the cost as community childcare and preschool programs absorb more financially strapped families. While first-grade teachers might earn $45,000 annually with benefits, pre-Kindergarten teachers earn roughly $27,000 annually on average; hence the irony of preschool teachers who can’t afford childcare for their own kids (in Connecticut, preschool tuition consumes over a third of a typical preschool worker’s salary). This pay scale is also disturbingly out of sync with the profession’s impact; research shows early childhood education is critical to children’s social development and future prospects, yet their teachers are stranded at the margins of the social service infrastructure. Meanwhile, childcare can cost households several thousand dollars a year, even with limited federal subsidies available for poorer parents.
The sector basically has instability, high turnover, and economic frustration baked into its infrastructure—not a good way to start a childhood, or maintain a career. Annual turnover in childcare averages about 30 percent nationwide, which can be disruptive to children’s education and corrosive to overstretched, threadbare programs. More unsustainable still is the regulatory pressure to meet rising professional requirements (Connecticut and many other states require at least a bachelor’s degree for higher-paying lead-teacher positions).