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Learning To Care

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Outside of North Carolina, five states have instituted their own TEACH programs, with the blessing and guidance of Day Care Services.

Shelton's center, which she calls Blossoms Home Daycare, occupies four rooms on the back of her small house. The rooms are well-equipped with books, games, and lots of "play" food for the pretend kitchen.

On one of the walls is a framed picture of her, and several other North Carolina providers, sitting around a table with Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. and Vice President Al Gore. Shelton is one of several providers who have had the opportunity to tell political leaders how they think TEACH is improving the quality of child care.

With another TEACH scholarship, Shelton plans to start on her bachelor's degree next fall. She's not sure how she'll find substitutes while she's in school and making the hour's commute to UNC-Greensboro.

"You feel like you would if you were leaving your own children."

Center teachers, too, sometimes feel guilty for taking off early and sense resentment from co-workers.

"They don't begrudge you the education, but they sort of don't think it's fair," says Ronda Campbell, the Greensboro director working on her degree.

Some supervisors are also reluctant about their employees' getting a higher education, fearing that once these teachers are trained, they'll eventually leave for the public schools.

"That's likely to be true, but at least you've gotten a much better trained person for the four or five years that you have them," Vardell says. "We have to continue to narrow the [salary] gap between child care and the public schools."

Outside of North Carolina, five states have instituted their own TEACH programs, with the blessing and guidance of Day Care Services. Two others are in the process of getting it off the ground.

TEACH has a sophisticated database to keep track of all the players involved--the centers, the students, and the colleges. And that's usually the first thing out-of-state visitors want to get their hands on.

But Day Care Service's Russell insists that they begin running the program in a low-tech way and with more face-to-face interaction with the providers.

"We don't want their time spent on managing the program," she says.

States have to agree to operate the program in essentially the same way North Carolina does. "We felt like if other states really wanted to replicate it, we wanted it to be done with some integrity," Russell says.

Still, those states have had to implement the program in a different political climate, with different higher education systems and with providers who have varying educational needs.

For example, the Georgia Association on Young Children, which has been running TEACH in that state for 3 « years, has had trouble building political support for the program. The state already spends millions of lottery dollars on its popular college-scholarship program called HOPE, which stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally.

When possible, child-care providers go to school on a HOPE scholarship and then get "wraparound benefits," such as the bonus and reimbursements for books, from the TEACH program, says Tracey Bankhead, the project director for TEACH in Georgia.

Another obstacle there is the limited availability of child-care-degree programs. Only 17 of the 33 vocational-technical schools in the state offer them.

Just 60 providers in Georgia have benefited from TEACH since it began. The association is using federal child-care block grant dollars exclusively.

"Why can't lottery dollars support this program? There are 20,000 teachers in Georgia we could serve," Bankhead argues.

Even though Georgia's TEACH program hasn't reached many providers, the outcomes--such as higher wages and lower turnover--are the same, she adds. "Even if it's small, it absolutely works."

In four states--Florida, Illinois, New York, and Colorado--private funds from the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care, a partnership of 22 large companies, including Citibank, the American Express Co., and Johnson & Johnson--are also being used to support TEACH. Scholarship recipients are recruited from centers that serve a heavy concentration of parents who work for those 22 corporations.

But Ruckterstuhl from New York says she doesn't want to ask foundations to underwrite the program on a long-term basis.

About 30 participants have been through the program so far, and Ruckterstuhl would like it to grow as large as North Carolina's. Her organization is now seeking money from the state, but so far the idea has not been warmly received by state leaders.

"We hear that there is some discomfort about having the compensation piece tied to something that is state-funded," she says. "They don't want to dictate to private businesses how to pay their staff."

Another delicate issue, now facing child-care advocates in California, is what to do for providers who already have college-level training. One-third of the center-based teachers in that state have a bachelor's degree, says Marcy Whitebook, the executive director of the Center for the Child Care Workforce and a resident of Oakland, Calif.

"What you need depends on the workforce in your state," she says.

That is the issue troubling her about implementing a nationwide TEACH-style program. "If you design this, you have got to have something for people who already have their degree. I think TEACH is a really creative, good initiative, but I don't think it's the solution to the staffing crisis."

Russell agrees. The missing piece, she says, is North Carolina's WAGES salary-supplement program, which is paid for with money from another North Carolina program, Smart Start.

"When you put WAGES and TEACH together, you've got the answer," she says.

"I think TEACH is a really creative, good initiative, but I don't think it's the solution to the staffing crisis."

Marcy Whitebook,
executive director,
Center for the Child Care Workforce

Gov. Hunt's Smart Start initiative is another nationally recognized effort that supports improvements in child care and other programs for young children at the county level. President Clinton has also proposed a plan similar to Smart Start, which he's calling an Early Learning Fund. With $3 billion over five years, the fund would be used to help centers earn accreditation, provide teachers with basic training, and reduce staff-to-child ratios.

While TEACH focuses on getting teachers educated, WAGES--or Workers are Gaining Education and Salary--rewards those who are already trained with annual salary supplements. The more training they get, the higher the supplement. A teacher with a bachelor's degree can get an extra $2,000 a year.

So far, only a handful of North Carolina's 100 counties use some of their Smart Start money for WAGES. But more have indicated, in their written plans for the next two years, that they want to participate, says Karen Ponder, the program director at the North Carolina Partnership for Children in Raleigh, the nonprofit organization that runs Smart Start.

Center directors like WAGES because the money doesn't come out of their own budgets, meaning they don't have to raise fees for parents.

But apparently that message hasn't reached the president's advisers in Washington yet.

"It just broke my heart when I read the list of Smart Start-like activities and salary supplements weren't there," Russell says.

After 18 years in child care, Tondra Hunter now makes $9.80 an hour teaching in Raleigh. While that's far better than some center teachers make, it's still meager enough to make her look for part-time work as well. For two months, she left her classroom at Kidworks at 2 p.m. and went straight to a large family child-care center to work until 6 p.m. But the strain became too much.

Even so, Hunter and other TEACH recipients don't plan to leave the early-childhood field. In fact, many of them now believe so strongly in the need for education that they want to be involved in some aspect of training themselves.

"All I had to do to get my license was have a fire extinguisher, plugs in my outlets, and a trash can with a lid," says Shelton, the family child-care provider in Chapel Hill. "I don't think people should have to do so little to open up their home to children."

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