In 1996, the year that I was accepted to Columbia Teachers College to do my Master's Degree, I earned $13,000 Before Taxes.
I worked roughly 49 weeks a year. I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., five days a week. I cared for 8 children - ages 6 weeks through 18 months in an employer sponsored child care which was located on premises. The company developed standardized tests for elementary children. While I had health insurance, I had to pay $50 per week for my own, single person coverage. Additionally, there were co-pays to be covered when I got sick. I got sick like every other teacher who works with young children gets sick. This is to say - Not as much as my first couple of years teaching, but ear infections, conjunctivitis, bronchial infections and a variety of other odd and exciting diseases appeared in the classroom and I was occasionally infected.
When I took the job as Director of a child care, my salary soared to $27,000 per year. I was in charge of a budget of nearly a million dollars and had roughly 30 employees. I wrote grants, coordinated curriculum, developed and wrote policy, and was responsible for the health and well being of 140 children. As a salaried employee, I often worked 60 hours a week. I covered classrooms, was the cook when she was on vacation, had meetings with parents and teachers and overall led the vision and direction of the center. Because this position was management within a Housing Authority, the health insurance was much better - for myself and for the staff.
Why am I telling you this?
For many years, early childhood professionals have been vague and ashamed of the money the we earn. We say we don't earn much...but we never specify, really. We are a profession of women - and nice women don't talk about how much they earn. No. We just do it cause we LOVE children.
Well - hopefully, Yes. Work with very young children needs incredibly special people. Many of the people working in child care centers are those people. Some are not. One of my longstanding jokes is that you can sort all teachers into two distinct groups of people - Those who love children and are amazing at their jobs...and those who chose the profession because they can dominate people smaller than them and always assert that they are RIGHT.
As a professional, and later a consumer of high quality child care, I worried for the ability of those very talented people to earn a living wage in this profession. Those of us with Bachelors degrees were often driven from the classroom to administrative or other jobs in order to simply sustain a modest living. The best teachers rarely stayed. They couldn't afford it.
Now, I place no blame on the families who use child care services. The reality is that they are often paying the maximum amount that their family budget can allow. When you start to compound 200 ( and often more) dollars a week for care with multiple children, you quickly reach the point of no return. As a person who paid many thousands of dollars for very high quality child care myself, my ideals and knowledge did not make the check I wrote any easier or less painful.
As Director, one of the most amazing things I did was a functional cost analysis. Room by Room. So while I knew, anecdotally, that the infant and toddler wing lost money I never could tell you exactly how much.
What I found floored even me. In my infant room, we had 8 full time available openings. I had two full time staff, and some part time staff who covered lunches and times when ratios remained high, but one of the primary staff needed to go home.
Before I go further...do you all understand what I mean by Ratios? In a nutshell, each age group can have a maximum amount of children. This is dictated by available space and how many qualified adults are present to supervise. The ratio in New Hampshire for infants is 4 infants to 1 adult. Ergo, if there are 5 babies present you need 2 adults. Generally, the ration goes up with age....5:1 for one year olds, 6:1 for two year olds, 8:1 for three year olds, 12:1 for four year olds and 15:1 for five year olds.
If you use purely a business model, you keep the rooms at Maximum capacity in order to break even or even turn a profit. However, from a Quality model, we know that 24 Four year olds in one room is a design for the portal of hell - even with 2 adults.
Since I believed in Quality above profit (and valued the sanity of my teachers), I tended to keep my rooms at a lower ratio. This of course led to budget shortfalls and is one of the many reasons I finally got the boot as Director. I wouldn't stuff the rooms full of children. And I admitted I was depressed and on Prozac.
But I digress.
In the infant room I found that it cost me roughly 375 dollars per week - per infant to simply have the room open and operational. That was staff costs and benefits, light, heat, supplies and equipment.
The parents paid (in 2000) $135 dollars per week.
Are you seeing the gap?
It is what Gwen Morgan of Wheelock College termed the "Trilemia of child care" -
1. Quality demands low child to staff ratio's
2. Staff recruitment, retention and morale require salaries ( and benefits) which allow them to live above the poverty line
3. Affordability to parents calls for reasonable fees
Parents can never full pay what it costs to provide a day of child care. Staff with degrees can't stay because they can't afford to continue to subsidize the gap between what parents can afford and what centers pay, leading to turnover and stress for children and parents. Using a business model for child care demands that a center stuffs it's rooms to maximum ratio in order to avoid losing more money.
And the circle goes round and round.
Until our society comes to grips with what it WANTS for young children, we will continue to chase this tail. Of course, you still have the hard core "Mothers should stay home and raise their own children" people - who are often the same people who feel that "ALL mothers receiving welfare should work 40 hours a week".
Too often the political here overrides the common sense, research based information. We know well educated teachers provide better care. We know that these well trained teachers require salaries of more than 13,000 per year. We know that children and families are unsettled when turnover happens in child care programs. We know that smaller class size means better care and education. We know that the first five years of brain development are vital for a child's educational base. We know that children who are loved and known in their child care programs end up having less social and behavioral issues down the road.
But, so what.
To FUND this knowledge, to set aside our "free market" mentality when it comes to child care doesn't seem to be making any headway. To set aside the puritanical values and morays of what it means to be a woman, a professional woman who may enjoy her job, and "hand over" the care of your child to someone else doesn't seem to be gaining any ground.
No. Mothers must be punished for being poor. Being professional. Being female. The least well paid in our society must then build it's labor on the backs of other women - equally poorly paid.
I don't have an answer. I do know, however, that we can't NOT talk about how much money we don't earn.
My name is Dawn. I have a B.S. in education from the University of Vermont. I have a M.S in Child Development from Wheelock College. I am working on my PhD in early child hood education. I have been published in academic journals. I have spoken at conferences and workshops. I have have been privileged to help raise the babies of many families, and I have hugged mothers returning to work as they cried and handed their six week old infants to me.
In my last year as a teacher, I earned $13,000.