Cincinnati Preschool Expansion, Issue 44: For our children and their teachers

Guest Contributor:  Clement Tsao, (Cincinnati Law ’12), Labor Attorney, Cook& Logothetis, LLC

Much has bclement-tsaoeen written about the benefits of preschool and quality early learning programs. Significant investments in preschool have been linked to improved kindergarten readiness, future academic success, a reduced achievement gap for students of color, as well as long-term savings on government and taxpayers. If you’re not yet convinced, you can check out some good research and writing on the arguments for preschool investment here, here, here and here.

But, high quality preschool isn’t just about education and economics; investment in preschool is also about labor policy. After all, it’s people, i.e., the teachers, who engage with our children and can be a determinative factor in a quality learning environment. That’s why investing in preschool also requires investing in our current and future preschool teachers.

This fall, Cincinnati voters will have the opportunity to do both, thanks to Issue 44. 

Preschool Pay Gap and Low Pay

Despite all of the research confirming the importance of early childhood education, preschool teachers receive poverty level wages and are among the lowest paid educators. According to a recent report released by the Obama administration, the national median salary for a preschool teacher is $28,570, almost half of what a kindergarten teacher makes – $51,640.

In Ohio, a preschool teacher earns a median wage of $11.39 an hour, or an annual salary of less than $23,700, which puts a family of four below the federal poverty line. Many preschool teachers in fact rely on public assistance to make ends meet. In contrast, a kindergarten teacher in the state earns a median wage of $25.23 an hour.

Even though almost half of all preschool teachers now have Bachelor’s degrees, wage inequities persist across the board, to the detriment of instructors and students alike. The Century Foundation reports that low pay causes stress and economic instability for early childhood educators, and, for preschool programs, high turnover (25 to 50% per year), as well as challenges to attracting and retaining qualified teachers.

Racial Disparities within the Early Childhood Education Workforce

In addition to low pay and wage inequality, significant racial disparities exist within the early childhood education (ECE) workforce, which is 95% female and 40% people of color. For example, some programs require teachers to have Bachelor’s and even Master’s degrees, which disproportionately impacts ECE teachers of color, who are less likely to hold a Bachelor’s degree: 28%, compared to their white counterparts at 45%.

In addition, the Center for American Progress last month published an analysis showing that African American ECE teachers make 84 cents for every dollar white teachers make. When adjusted for levels of education and experience, African American ECE teachers still only make 93 cents on the dollar. When you only make $11.39 an hour, that difference is significant.

There is a growing consensus in ECE research that high quality preschool and early learning programs require a well-compensated, well-trained, and a diverse ECE workforce, as well pathways for professional development. How can we get there?

Issue 44: An Opportunity to Expand Preschool in Cincinnati

This November, Cincinnati voters will have the opportunity to vote for a transformative preschool expansion. Appearing on the ballot as Issue 44, a 7.93-mill property tax (or around $280 annually for an owner of a $100,000 home) will generate $48 million per year for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), $15 million of which will be set aside to expand preschool opportunities at CPS and other community-based providers.

Access in the form of tuition credits to a quality-rated preschool will be available based on a sliding scale, depending on family income and the quality rating of the preschool provider.

In addition to creating important new educational avenues for our children, Issue 44 has great promise for preschool teachers. In a statement of shared vision for preschool expansion, CPS board members on August 2nd passed a resolution making clear that there must be funding dedicated to ensuring wage parity for full-time teachers with comparable credentials, a $15 an hour wage floor for teachers without four-year degrees, and quality improvement funding to help low-rated programs improve.

The framework for preschool expansion will also include a Workforce Development Council to ensure that participating preschools maintain “professional employment standards, livable wages with wage parity, and curricular alignment to state learning standards;” it also will monitor programs and report non-compliance.

All of this happened as a result of the diligent participation of a broad coalition of stakeholders, including organized labor, faith, business, government, and early childhood communities. As long and winding as the road has been to get to this point, what has me optimistic is the inclusion of so many voices and constituencies that have often been silenced in the crafting of other preschool expansion plans around the country.

In the end, I believe that this inclusion of all stakeholders is what ultimately will ensure the success of Cincinnati’s preschool expansion and make the shared vision a reality.

Vote for Issue 44!

Clement Tsao (UC Law, Class of 2012) is a labor attorney with Cook & Logothetis, LLC and also serves on the Preschool Promise Steering Committee. From 2005 to 2009, he was a family child care organizer with AFSCME in San Francisco, California.

To learn more information about Issue 44, you can visit http://www.strongstartstrongfuture.com.

Author: Verna L. Williams

Interim Dean, Nippert Professor of Law, co-founder and co-director of Cincinnati Law's Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Professor Williams joined Cincinnati Law's faculty in 2001. She teaches Constitutional Law; Gender and the Law; and Family Law. Her research examines the intersection of race and gender in law and society.

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