Finding Highly Qualified Early Childhood Educators in Addison County
Over the past four years, I have sat at many community and statewide tables, and the one consistent and alarming message from early childhood educators and program directors throughout the state is that they cannot find qualified staff to fill positions.
Addison County is seeking creative solutions to this common issue, using local, state, and national expertise and resources to develop the right solution at the local level.
In order to gain a better understanding, Addison Building Bright Futures did a little digging. First, we wanted to know what parents valued most in early learning and development programs.
In the 2016 Addison County Parent Child Care Survey, quality ranked as the number one priority in seeking child care, with teacher education and experience following close behind. We know that positive relationships between child and caregiver is crucial to healthy development, however our childcare programs suffer from consistent staff turnover, making it difficult to maintain the optimal environment for healthy social and emotional development. We also know that there is a shortage of qualified staff applying for early childhood education positions, and we wanted to learn more. We created a survey to capture some data to support the anecdotal stories of providers struggling with a steady cycle of staff turnover.
The 2017 Addison County Director’s Survey revealed that the number one challenge of program directors is recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers. How programs were recruiting didn’t seem to be the issue: Programs often use high profile search engines, such as schoolspring.com, to recruit teachers. However, programs continued to struggle to fill positions. The effect of such a shortage in teachers can eventually affect program quality, so Addison Building Bright Futures wanted to know why there was such turnover from early childhood teachers and staff.
- 75% reported changing fields or moving from area, typically due to low wages and lack of benefits in the early childhood field
- Paying a livable wage or offering benefits are the biggest challenges of running an early childhood program, resulting in high staff turnover and shortage of highly qualified staff
Demand in Addison County to recruit teachers is incredible. With almost 70% of families with children under five with all parents in the workforce, the need for childcare is pressing. Shortage of childcare slots is critical: 88% of infants and toddlers likely to need care don’t have access to high-quality programs, and 65% do not even have access to a regulated program. There is great interest and expertise available to expand capacity in Addison County; however, the reality is that even if we did, it would be a challenge to find qualified staff to fill positions to meet regulations and quality standards. This childcare shortage affects area businesses, with employees often unable to return to work after having a baby for lack of care.
Staff salaries of home-based and center-based providers are far less than their public school counterparts, despite offering full day care. One pitfall for programs (and a benefit to local public schools) is that many staff “learn the ropes” in early learning and development settings, and progress to public school settings to match earnings with experience and skill. Addison County is fortunate to have strong school partnerships that value this wealth of staffing, however the gap remains in retaining great staff for our youngest population.
The problem is not unique to Addison County, or even to Vermont. We know that on average, a Vermont child care worker makes $24,850 annually, often without benefits. Many early childhood teachers are receiving state subsidy based on income, and struggle to meet the demands of child care costs, housing, and living.
The Vermont Early Childhood Workforce Survey 2015 showed that over ¼ of respondents working for family providers, early childhood support services, and after school programs report that someone in their household receives government assistance. According to the National Academies of Science, those working with children under the age of five require as the same level of complex knowledge and skills as those working with older children.
However, according to a recent and comprehensive national study, the median wage for an early educator with a bachelor’s degree or higher working in center-based programs was just $13.50 per hour. Early care and education services, designed to mitigate the effects of poverty and support the well being of children and families, are in fact generating poverty for many early educators and their families.
Solutions at the Local Level
Addison County is fortunate to have collaborative and community-minded early childhood leaders at the helm of this movement to maintain high quality staffing. Building Bright Futures, Addison County Directors Network, Let’s Grow Kids, Vermont Birth to Five, and Middlebury College are uniting to build the case for community action. The first step in this approach begins with educating the community about the status of childcare in the region, uniting through a common understanding of the challenges we face as a community, and identifying what we do well that can be built upon. The second step comes in the form of exploring possible pathways, and tailoring them to the needs of our community.
Showcase Tours 2017-Quality-Access-Affordability
Building local support begins by developing a common understanding of what early childhood education is, why it is important, and how it impacts the larger community. During the first week of October, high quality early learning and development home- and center-based programs throughout the region will open their doors to welcome community members, school partners, and businesses to showcase the magic of early childhood education. The focus of the tours will be demonstrating how quality impacts child development.
On October 5th, the week of tours will culminate with a luncheon event and panel discussion at Middlebury College. Panelists will highlight access and affordability in Addison County, and shed light on the complexity of the challenges faced by early care and learning programs. Data and personal stories will set the stage for facilitated community discussion and problem solving, resulting in a community call to action.
Exploring Shared Services
While several innovative ideas will surface from the showcase tours luncheon event, we will begin by building upon what we already know to be successful.
Over the past several years, the Addison County Directors Network members have been developing a flexible pot of funding to share among programs, to increase program quality, and support staff needs. This “Local Fund” eventually evolved into the “Community Potluck Fund”, with local business, such as Bristol Fitness, the Vermont Book Shop, and American Flatbread, donating a discount in goods or services to early childhood educators, offering non-traditional benefits for teachers.
This is the beginning of shared services in Addison County, and we are getting ready to take this concept to the next level. How might Addison County early childhood educators come together to create a shared services model? Would shared business expenses or pedagogical leadership make a difference in program budgets and quality? Would this cost savings allow for increases in staff salaries?
In 2017-18, we will learn more from our friends at the Permanent Fund, and national consultant, Sharon Easterling from Opportunities Exchange, and together, we will develop an Addison County model that meets the needs and values of local providers.
Solutions at the State Level
The Building Bright Futures Early Learning and Development Committee (ELD) has a long history of exploring current trends in the early childhood field. BBF’s Early Childhood Action Plan Implementation Cycle Launch on July 24th, 2017 revealed that a priority action step toward meeting Goal #3: “All Children and Families have access to high-quality opportunities that meet their needs to be met”, is to support the early childhood workforce, including increasing compensation and benefits without creating a cost shift to families.
The ELD is setting a neutral table to connect the dots of where this work is happening around the state and throughout the nation. The ELD aspires to develop collective recommendations in policy, practice, or preparation of early childhood educators in Vermont. We know that listening to those working in the field is key to paving the way for the future.
A sub-committee of the ELD, the ECE as a Profession work group, is “taking the temperature” of the field, to gather more information about how Vermont sees its future in the early childhood education profession. Members of this workgroup will travel the state this fall to collect feedback on how both new and experienced early childhood educators would like to see the field progress. On a national scale, NAEYC Power to the Profession is also looking to raise the bar on professionalizing the field, as one strategy to increase teacher salaries. The ELD is determined to keep the integrity of Vermont at the forefront of this development.
This is just the beginning of the next era of early childhood education in Vermont. Addison Building Bright Futures will continue to share progress, build on success, and collectively problem solve challenges in order to support the incredible staff working with our most vulnerable populations. Together, we will continue to do our part to make Addison County a truly wonderful place to raise a family.
 Stalled at the Start, Spring 2016, Let’s Grow Kids
 Stalled at the Start, Spring 2016, Let’s Grow Kids
 Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation, April 2015
 Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education (ECE) Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), 2013.