Child Care Centers Struggle to Keep Qualified, Dedicated Staff

Kayla Arruda earned her associates degree in 2014, and began working in a child care program. She quickly progressed through the early childhood education ranks from teacher’s aid to program leader. While her classroom experience, level of responsibility, and time commitment dramatically increased, her pay unfortunately did not increase enough for her to financially support herself while working in the childcare field. She was forced to leave the field in 2019 for a human relations role at retail chain BJs Wholesale Club, which came with a slightly higher salary, shorter hours, and significantly less job-related stress.

“It broke my heart to leave my kids, families and teachers in child care. But I needed to earn more, and I knew I couldn’t earn my bachelor’s degree or a better salary while working the long, demanding hours as an early childhood educator in child care,” said Kayla.

Kayla spent two years earning her degree while working in retail, and this summer was able to return to her chosen field as a North Providence child care program administrator. While she’s grateful to be back in a career she finds immensely fulfilling, Kayla is concerned about the common struggles she sees her colleagues facing, who on average earn just above minimum wage.

“I’ve seen early childhood educators forced to choose between paying their phone bill and being able to afford health care bills. I know of classroom teachers working two jobs to make ends meet, despite working long hours in a high-stress job. It’s not sustainable,” said Kayla. “Despite many of us trying our best to stay in the field because we love nurturing and educating children during these critical developmental years, we can’t stay if the time and money we invest in the job is far greater than the compensation and career paths available. Wages must go up so child care programs can retain enough qualified, passionate staff in the field to serve all working families who need care.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a child care educator in Rhode Island was $12.11/hour in May 2020. While child care is expensive for most families, the tuition covered by families is not enough for programs to pay competitive wages to educators. Tuition generally covers the basic costs to staff a child care program that is open 10-12 hours per day, meet required staff to child ratios, and cover basic supplies and operating costs. Less than 50 percent of Rhode Island child care centers are able to offer health insurance to their employees based on what they collect in tuition.

“Increasing wages for child care educators will have the added benefit of improving gender and racial equity, since 99 percent of child care educators in Rhode Island are women, and many are women of color,” said Kayla. “There’s tremendous value in the work they do, but they’re not being compensated for the value they bring to our communities. They’re helping raise and educate our children, giving them the tools to succeed for the rest of their life, and we can’t afford to keep short-changing them.”

Kayla stresses that lawmakers and statewide leaders must increase funding and resources for the industry so that child care programs can pay their staff adequately without putting the burden of increasing costs on families. She knows how much families rely on high-quality care options, and that they can’t bear the burden of increasing child care costs. She encourages legislators to ensure that child care and preschool teachers who have earned early childhood credentials and demonstrated their effectiveness are rewarded with increased wages, comparable to similarly qualified k-12 educators. Kayla wants statewide leaders to recognize that the current funding model is not sustainable, both statewide in Rhode Island, and across the rest of our country.