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Salary Issue Stirs Strong Sentiment at Conference

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Anaheim, Calif.

The governing board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children has rejected a proposal to devote a fixed share of its membership dues to the "Worthy Wage Campaign,'' a national initiative for higher wages for child-care workers.

But N.A.E.Y.C. leaders meeting at the group's annual conference here this month underscored their commitment to seek better compensation for early-care professionals as part of their efforts to bolster child-care quality while keeping services affordable for parents.

"We are not the enemy,'' Lilian G. Katz, the president of the organization, told members who aired concerns about the plight of underpaid child-care workers at an emotional session. "We support you all the way,'' she said.

In 1987, the N.A.E.Y.C. launched a "Quality, Compensation, and Affordability'' campaign to raise public awareness of the cost of high-quality care and promote strategies for a more equitable sharing of the costs across various sectors of society. Rather than addressing salaries in isolation, the campaign promotes efforts to make pay reflect professional training and responsibility.

Seeking a more focused and aggressive strategy on the issue, however, the Child Care Employee Project, a nonprofit advocacy group now based in Oakland, Calif., launched the Worthy Wage Campaign in 1991.

The five-year effort, backed by more than 100 state, local, and national groups, spurs care-givers to organize in their communities and to plan local rallies and forums on the problem of low child-care wages on "Worthy Wage Day'' each April. In a few cases those activities have included shutting down child-care centers that day.

The N.A.E.Y.C. unanimously endorsed the Worthy Wage Campaign in 1991 and pays $500 in dues annually to be a supporting organization. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

Still, said Walter Draude, a governing-board member who serves on the group's committee on quality, compensation, and affordability, "the pressure on the N.A.E.Y.C. to do more has been building.''

The committee first proposed directing a share of N.A.E.Y.C. membership dues to the Worthy Wage Campaign in July, but the board by a narrow margin turned the request down. In Anaheim this month, the board also declined to consider a proposal by the California Association for the Education of Young Children to devote 10 cents of each member's dues, about $8,900, to the campaign.

Fear of Setting Precedent

Marilyn Smith, the N.A.E.Y.C.'s executive director, said the board did not want to set a precedent for funding outside organizations, but would continue to "nurture'' and back the campaign by offering free conference space and publicity to its activities.

A summary of N.A.E.Y.C. compensation strategies circulated at the conference also included:

  • Incorporating into N.A.E.Y.C. statements new data on the "effects of insufficient resources on program quality and on children and our society'' and helping states gather such data;
  • Promoting professional-development activities designed to improve workers' qualifications and opportunities for advancement;
  • Budgeting $50,000 over five years in grants for projects to improve child-care compensation and working conditions; and
  • Producing books, brochures, and videos on the Quality, Compensation, and Affordability campaign and introducing a feature on it in the journal Young Children.

Advocacy 'Vacuum'

At the open session for members, however, several participants urged the N.A.E.Y.C. leadership to reconsider its stand and displayed a banner filled with names of workers who have left the field for financial reasons.

Members also called on the board to consider a number of ways to address the problem, from holding a leadership conference on compensation to offering reduced fees and scholarships to help poorly paid teachers and students attend the group's annual conference.

Ms. Katz, who won praise from many for airing a video on the Worthy Wage Campaign during her keynote address, said members' impassioned pleas reflected growing "frustration'' about low wages and high staff turnover.

But she noted that major progress is unlikely "until parents demand better services.'' Because parents of preschoolers are a transient group, she added, "there is a vacuum in the sense of an advocacy group, so you don't know who to protest against.''

"People recognize that the N.A.E.Y.C. does take compensation seriously and has moved on that issue,'' said Marcy Whitebook, the executive director of the Child Care Employee Project.

Rather than suggesting the N.A.E.Y.C. alone "fix the problem,'' however, "people were saying you're well positioned as a leading national organization to help us figure out'' how to fix it, she added.

Mr. Draude said channeling more aid to Worthy Wages should not be seen as "deflecting from anything else'' the N.A.E.Y.C. does.

"I'm not concerned about the precedent it sets, because this is such a supremely important issue every day'' for care-givers, he said.

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