Funds needed for early childhood education

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Over the years there have been many significant changes in my profession as an early childhood educator. It's a very unique industry, as we are highly regulated by the government since we work with children, yet don't receive enough government financial assistance to make this business model work. For example, when I first started, the ratio of children to teachers was very high. In 2-year-old rooms, the ratio was 12 children to one adult, making it difficult to give each child the attention they deserve. The ratios have changed for the better, but the difficulty of the work has increased and the pay has not. Planning, cleaning, and potty training (only a small portion of the necessary work) are all part of a teacher's day, and many are stretched very thin.

Teachers and staff who work in early childhood education are committed and passionate to seeing children thrive.

Since I was a child, I always wanted to be a teacher. Once I entered high school, I found out that they offered classes in programs designed to teach a trade, so I chose the early childhood education program. The course offered was at college level, which I attended while also working at a pre-school in the afternoon to gain the experience necessary to complete the program. I was so inspired that I moved on to college, obtaining my degree in early childhood education.

Here I am, 47 years later, still doing what I love: teaching the littlest members of our society. I introduce them to new concepts such as math, reading, science, language and art, and watch them socialize with others while playing on the playground. These concepts are all immeasurably important for a developing child.

Child care educators also work hard to provide a clean, well-organized room, healthy food and a safe place to be while separated from their parents. Teachers do their best to take every child's needs into consideration when planning educational goals, regardless of the low pay. We are indeed the workforce behind the workforce that makes the American economy grow; without child care providers, parents cannot get back to work.

Child care is essential for boosting labor force participation, particularly for women. The December 2021 jobs report shows that we are still down over 100,000 child care jobs relative to where we were before the pandemic. This is bad news for all and a reminder that it is vital for the federal government to invest in child care.

The need for qualified personnel in schools is crucial and cannot be ignored, nor can the quality of tools at a teacher's disposal. The equipment that preschools have to buy is very expensive due to regulations. In one situation, the director of my child care decided it was time to replace all the cribs in the two infant rooms, a total of 15 cribs. In less than six months the regulations changed for the cribs, so they had to buy 15 more cribs. At that time the cribs that had to be bought were $300-$400 apiece. The fire cribs are $100 more and each room needs two for 10 children. One table is $300, the chairs are $30 each. Not to mention art easels, paints, markers, paper, blocks, oh my goodness it goes on and on.

These necessary things also need to be replaced as time goes by, which adds up in dollars spent very quickly.

Parents and teachers can no longer bear the cost of running a quality school. Parents with very young children are paying the same money as rent, and that's for each child. So with two young children a parent could be paying $3,000 a month just to keep the children in care, and themselves working. Many families are in a dire situation when it comes to affording child care.

As a teacher I could not afford to have both my children in my school, so I had to quit my job to care for my children. The system that is in place isn't working. Families are being left behind, and the cost is unbearable; if we could at least subsidize just half of the tuition for every child, it would make a huge difference. Allocated money could be used for bolstering teacher salaries, improving equipment and supplies, and relieving the financial burden placed squarely on families.

The time is now to come forward and say: yes, American families need early childhood education. The Senate must pass the Build Back Better Act with early childhood education investments to bring quality care and education to America's children. Together, let us ensure that hundreds of thousands of children across the country have access to safe and fun places to learn and grow.

Cynthia Sumner is an early childhood education teacher from Littleton.

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