Early Childhood

Arizona Program Boosting College Degrees Among Early-Childhood Educators

By Lillian Mongeau — December 09, 2014 2 min read
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Twice as many early-education teachers in Pima County, Ariz., hold college degrees now than did five years ago, according to an article by Patty Machelor in the Arizona Daily Star.

That’s thanks in large part to a scholarship program funded by the state’s First Things First tobacco tax. (The Star, which is based in Tuscon, didn’t enumerate the gains in other counties.) Scholarships went to nearly 700 teachers across the state in 2014 at a cost of nearly $2.3 million, according to First Things First’s annual report. Most teachers earn child development credentials or associate’s degrees, but the scholarship program, called TEACH, is piloting a bachelor’s degree scholarship and has helped five people earn master’s degrees, according to Machelor.

Programs focused on helping early-childhood teachers aren’t unique to Arizona. A similar tobacco-tax-funded program exists in California, for example. Neither program directly addresses another pressing need among those working in the early-childhood sphere: wages.

Measured in 2013 dollars, the average hourly wage for child-care workers in Arizona, for example, has risen a mere 73 cents since 1997, bringing the average to $10 an hour, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at U.C. Berkeley. For preschool teachers with some level of certification, hourly wages have risen $2.49 to the still low average of $13.32 an hour. Nationally, the numbers aren’t much better.

“Despite a nearly two-fold increase in costs to parents for early-childhood services since 1997, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, child-care workers have experienced no increase in real earnings since this time. Those who work as preschool teachers have fared somewhat better; their wages have increased by 15 percent in constant dollars since 1997,” according to the report. “And, as was true in 1989, child-care workers still earn less than adults who take care of animals, and barely more than fast food cooks.”

Improving educational opportunities for early-childhood educators could mean those educators ultimately go elsewhere, to jobs with a higher financial reward. But many of the teachers who spoke to Machelor hope to stick with their chosen field.

“With the things I want to accomplish in my life, I may have to find myself a different job,” teacher Daniel Avila told Machelor. “But to leave it for a job that doesn’t have as much meaning, just more compensation, is unfortunate.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.