GUEST COLUMN: Prioritizing the Early Childhood Workforce | Opinion

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Seventeen years ago, on a warm spring day, I nervously walked into a preschool classroom. I had an appointment with my child’s teacher and I didn’t know what to expect. After the meeting, I was anxious and worried about my child’s development and needed to do something. To support my child, I completed my early childhood education credentials at Denver Community College. During this process, I fell in love with preschool education.

Since then, I have helped open two early learning centers in Colorado Springs, taught approximately 180 children, and trained nearly 250 early childhood professionals as an instructor and coach.

I am thrilled with the recent and historic investments Colorado has made in early childhood. In 2019, Colorado committed funds to provide children with the opportunity to attend full-time kindergarten. In 2020, voters approved Proposition EE to provide universal preschool to all 4-year-olds. Then, last year, the Colorado General Assembly approved the Department of Early Childhood so that our children can have access to quality early childhood opportunities.

However, these investments cannot go so far without a workforce that is well paid, valued and incentivized to undertake the essential work they do every day. Early childhood educators are the backbone of our economy and of quality early learning, but we don’t treat them as such.

As a result, Colorado — despite being a state that places such a high value on the early years — faces an early educator crisis. This year, Colorado has the opportunity to invest in the early childhood workforce through Bill 22-1010’s Early Childhood Educator Income Tax Credit – a crucial piece of the puzzle early childhood education and care that has been missing for too long.

Nationally, 80% of child care centers are experiencing staffing shortages. The Colorado organization, Early Milestones, reports that 70% of early childhood education center directors struggle to find qualified staff. Low salaries and lack of benefits are barriers to recruiting and retaining staff. Combined with difficult working conditions and the impact of the pandemic, the turnover rate in early childhood is very high. Surprisingly, 30% of early childhood educators leave the field each year, four times the turnover rate of elementary school teachers.

About a third of Colorado teachers plan to leave the classroom. The shortage of early childhood educators in Colorado often means fewer child care options for parents, causing many children to miss out on early learning crucial to their success in school and in life. and lack contributions in other sectors that influence our economy.

I’ve worked with teachers who left the classroom due to low salaries that didn’t cover the bills. These talented and passionate teachers want to work with children, but can’t make ends meet doing the work they love — the work on which our children’s success, livelihoods and future depend.

This problem is not unique to Colorado, but Colorado is unique in that it is one of the few states rapidly expanding its early childhood education and care programs. In 2023, we will roll out universal preschool, and not too far in the future, the Department of Early Childhood will further expand early childhood opportunities. How can these programs succeed without a strong and valued workforce in early childhood education and care? To keep up with this positive and exciting growth for children, we need early childhood professionals now.

House Bill 22-1010 is an important step in addressing this issue. The bill, pending in the Colorado General Assembly, proposes an income tax credit of up to $1,500 per year for early childhood educators depending on the educator’s degree level . This has the potential to create big changes. For example, a similar tax credit in Louisiana resulted in a four-fold increase in the number of educators graduating and an eight-fold increase in staff earning advanced degrees.

Imagine what that could mean for Colorado’s workforce and, therefore, for our children? Teachers are at the heart of quality early learning. As such, they must be at the center of early childhood policy. Join me in urging the Colorado General Assembly to pass Bill 22-1010. It’s time to value the early childhood workforce and honor the life-changing work they do every day.

Elisha Stewart is a Colorado Springs early childhood educator, business owner, and Save the Children Action Network advocate.

Elisha Stewart is a Colorado Springs early childhood educator, business owner, and Save the Children Action Network advocate.

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