Improving pay and professionalizing careers in early childhood education – including providing clear paths for career growth and professional development – are key to hiring and retaining ECE teachers, according to recommendations released today from the Colorado Early Childhood Education Workforce Coalition.
Earlier this year, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill that created universal preschool beginning in the 2023-24 school year. All Colorado children will soon be eligible for at least 10 hours of preschool per week beginning at age 4. Hiring and retaining high-quality ECE teachers is critical to the success of universal preschool – particularly in a profession that has been plagued with high turnover.
To understand how to recruit, retain and support Colorado’s ECE educators, in December 2021, Public Education & Business Coalition and Keystone Policy Center launched the Early Childhood Education Workforce Coalition (ECEWC), a group of more than 50 stakeholders who met regularly over the past year to understand which areas of ECE workforce challenges were already being addressed at the state level and, with partner organizations, develop recommendations to address any gaps. These discussions included an exploration of how to recruit and retain educators, increase equity and diversity, develop meaningful career pathways, and provide fair compensation.
The Coalition has released a series of recommendations resulting from those discussions to help recruit and support the state’s ECE workforce:
Partner with the legislators and government agencies on solutions to boost ECE compensation.
ECE compensation is among the lowest of any skilled profession. Various sources peg the average compensation between $15-$17/hour or $25-$37k/year, which is well below that of K-12 educators and on the low-end of many non-skilled jobs with far fewer stressors.
The convening recommends the State work to develop a sustainable stream of funding to support the ECE workforce, as well as guidelines and supports for local compensation systems. This may include outcome-based (e.g., “Pay for Success”) models, as well as incentives for local communities to identify public and private sources of funds, while not setting up systems that exacerbate gaps based on community wealth or cost of living.
Make it easier for teachers to understand their potential career paths and attain professional development.
The convening’s recommendations include creating:
- Clear and meaningful systems of career progression for the ECE workforce to help educators move from entry level to lead teacher to director-level positions;
- A task force to design and pilot a system of professional development for ECE educators that supports skills growth; is accessible to the workforce across settings and geographies; and includes additional work-based opportunities for the workforce to grow their skillset;
- A structured incentive system (e.g., stipends) to support ECE teachers to move through a newly created ladder system for career progression.
Explore opportunities to support recruitment of ECE educators.
Recommendations for further exploration from the convening include:
- A coordinated marketing campaign to raise awareness and elevate the prestige of ECE careers to that of other highly skilled professionals;
- One-time incentives in the forms of sign-on bonuses, training reimbursement or loan forgiveness;
- Developing multiple pathways into the profession modeled after Colorado’s robust alternative licensure, residency and grow-your-own K-12 educator programs;
- Inclusion of ECE in all state career navigation and counseling programs starting in high school and continuing through adult education and job reskilling programs.
“It all comes down to treating early childhood educators like the highly-skilled professionals that they are,” said Sue Sava, President and CEO of PEBC. “ECE educators help students develop an early love for learning, be ready for school, and ultimately grow up into the next generation of our workforce. We’re grateful to the coalition for their incredible work to help give ECE educators the respect, growth and pay they deserve.”
“At each step, this convening took a holistic approach to identifying ideas and solutions to pursue in order to uplift Colorado’s ECE workforce,” said Alethea Gomez, Director of Programs and Initiatives at Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC). “Through publishing this brief, this convening seeks to keep these critical issues, as well as the voices of educators, at the forefront as the state continues to move forward in developing an exceptional early childhood landscape for children and families.”