Alexandria is a city of families. We take pride in our strong school system, our beautiful public parks, and the many other resources we rely on to raise our children and connect with other families. But we also know that starting and supporting a family comes with unique challenges. Between basic needs like medical care, housing and clothes to extracurricular activities and college, the cost of taking care of our children can be substantial. Now imagine facing those costs while dedicating your life to taking care of other people’s children and doing it while making poverty wages. This is the unfortunate reality faced by our early childhood education workforce.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) recently passed by Congress and signed by President Biden will provide $56.4 million in childcare stabilization grants to the City of Alexandria. Early childhood educators are the backbone of our national education system, but their wages are too low, and their poverty rates are too high. ARPA funds offer the opportunity to give the members of an undervalued workforce the dignity and financial security that they have earned and deserve. The city should commit to using a portion of ARPA funds to provide premium pay and at least 14 days of paid leave for COVID-19 related needs for all early childhood education professionals.
For far too long, we have undervalued our early childhood educators. According to last year’s Early Childhood Workforce Index, early childhood educators earn an average of $11 to $14 an hour. This is a poverty wage. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, approximately 166,000 jobs in the childcare industry were lost, and those workers who did not lose their jobs were faced with considerable risk to their own health while making less than a living wage and receiving minimal to no health benefits.
Early childhood educators have one of the most important and difficult jobs in the country. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the essential role these professionals play in our daily lives. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve much more than what we are giving them now.
ARPA funding presents a unique opportunity to invest in this crucial workforce. Early educators should not be expected to deal with the uncertainty of a global pandemic without a safety net of paid medical leave and adequate wages, and the ARPA funds provide an opportunity for Alexandria to create that net. We owe it to our children to ensure that the people we have entrusted with their care are paid fairly.
Chair, Hopkins House
Public Policy and Advocacy Committee