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How smart tax reform can boost early education for our children

September 29, 2017
Cindy Cisneros
The Hill

By listening to the current tax reform debate, one might think only corporations and adults stand to benefit. But if done tactfully, a critical yet overlooked group can also reap the rewards: America’s kids. The current state of early care and education in this country falls short of where it should be. Congress should incorporate a workforce investment credit model as part of tax reform to help ensure healthy childhood development and a strong talent pipeline in the future, as was done in Louisiana.

Research demonstrates that high-quality early care and education requires an environment that stimulates brain development through the knowledge and competencies of the early care and education workforce and their interactions with children. This is not babysitting. Studies show that the quality of early learning settings can largely impact the healthy development of children. In America, the median wage for child care workers is $10.18 per hour, or about $21,170 per year. According to the National Survey of Early Care and Education, more than one million paid staff work in about 130,000 child care centers throughout the United States. Another one million caregivers are paid home-based providers caring for children in their residence.

Most of these workers do not have college degrees, and many of them only have high school degrees. With parent fees as the only source of revenue for most programs, early learning providers are under incredible pressure to keep costs down, particularly labor costs, which are the largest component of an early care and education program budget. Low wages are problematic for hiring and retaining a more educated workforce.

Such low compensation makes it difficult for child care workers to pursue training and certifications or higher education coursework. School readiness hinges on high-quality early learning settings, which are impossible without a high-quality workforce. That is why it is important to improve education and professional training for early childhood educators and link those professional achievements to wage increases.

Fortunately, one state’s lead paves the way for a path forward. In 2007, Louisiana launched the School Readiness Tax Credit, which include a refundable workforce investment credit that provides an incentive for early care and education workers to increase their knowledge base and skills while acquiring a modest increase in their take-home pay. The Louisiana approach uses the state’s existing early childhood career development registry to verify the educational attainment of employees. Early care and education directors and staff then receive a refundable tax credit that grows as they increase their education, training and work experience.