HARTFORD, CT — The Education Committee voted Monday to raise the concept of requiring the Office of Early Childhood to develop a compensation schedule for early childhood educators in an effort to improve services for children and families in Connecticut.
Gov. Ned Lamont is scheduled to give his budget proposal on Feb. 20 and it’s not yet clear whether the administration is planning any changes to early childcare programs.
Adopting a compensation schedule would give workers who care for young children the opportunity to earn better pay over time.
An annual report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California-Berkeley, which tracks conditions and industry pay in all 50 states, found that the average hourly wage for a Connecticut child care workers is $11.87. In comparison, the average pre-school teacher in Connecticut earns $16.58 an hour; center directors average $24.71; kindergarten teachers average $43.90, and elementary teachers average $22.05.
A total of 15,860 people in Connecticut are members of the early childhood workforce, according to the report. However, that number doesn’t include in-home childcare workers or self-employed childcare workers.
For decades the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment has been studying the workforce and has found that those who teach and care for the nation’s youngest children — predominantly women — are often struggling to support their families because of low pay while facing widespread workplace challenges.
Education Committee co-chair Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, said he knows Lamont wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but that won’t help all early child care workers in the state.
He said he thinks they will be able to reduce the churn of early childhood educators and get more of them to stay in the field if they come up with a pay schedule that’s consistent.
Lawmakers have been looking to improve access to early childhood education as well.
There’s been a discussion about whether to increase the number of children served by changing the ratio of educators to children.
At a weekly meeting of the Early Childhood Alliance, Georgia Goldburn of HOPE Child Development Center said enrollment in programs would increase 8 percent if they were able to increase the educator-to-child ratio.
In addition, there’s been discussion about whether to increase the income caps to expand the number of families served by the Care4Kids program, which is the child care subsidy program for low-income families.
For a family of four with two children, eligibility is limited to households with incomes of $56,000 or less.
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, said they have to fix the problems they started experiencing when transitioning to a new computer system.
“What does the need look like?” Cook said.
She said they won’t know until they finish processing all the applications and reauthorizations.
Next, they want to increase the rates the Care4Kids program pays to centers, which have only seen a 3 percent increase since 2002.
By then it will be time to react to whatever Lamont proposes.
Sanchez said he would be ok with a tax increase if it helped expand access to early childhood programs.
Cook agreed the elephant in the room is the $1.5 billion budget deficit the state faces next fiscal year and the $2.3 billion budget deficit it faces the following year.
“I’m looking forward to see what the new governor has to say,” Cook said.