Child care teaching is low-paying, hard work and many child care teachers experience poverty. Bassok’s work shows that during the pandemic – a time when many employers like retail stores and fast-food restaurants were increasing wages – child care wages remained largely unchanged. Among child care teachers who remained, depression and food insecurity rose.
“Although many site leaders believe their teachers need higher wages, they cannot pay them without raising costs to levels families just cannot sustain,” Bassok said.
But there is good news on the horizon.
Bassok has long been working with both Louisiana and Virginia to support efforts to improve access to quality early childhood education. In the last few years, those efforts have increasingly focused on addressing workforce shortages.
“Our work now, especially in Virginia, is helping think through strategies to address this,” she said.
One of those strategies is a teacher-focused incentive program that pays qualifying teachers a one-time stipend. Last December, Bassok’s team published initial findings of the Teacher Recognition Program, a pilot program that offered early educators up to $1,500 if they continued teaching for longer than an eight-month period.
“What we found was that these incentives of just $1,500 cut teacher turnover in half in Northern Virginia, which was huge,” Bassok said.
Working closely with partners in Virginia like Jenna Conway, deputy superintendent in the Virginia Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Care and Education, Bassok’s research offered the evidence needed to expand the program. This year, all teachers in publicly funded programs are eligible, and this year, they’ll be eligible for $2,500. That number increases to $3,000 next year.