Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Impact of the Ryan Budget on Early Learning Programs

Tomorrow the House of Representatives is slated to vote on the Ryan Budget. This budget would have a drastic, negative impact on funding for Early Learning programs by forcing cuts to all domestic discretionary spending.  The cuts would be across the board and not made based on effectiveness so Early Learning programs would be cut despite a record of both accountability and success.

Economists note that the benefits of quality Early Education range from increased success in school to less need for remediation and special education services to reduced incarcerations to increased life-long earnings.  Economists estimate that for every dollar invested in Early Education, 7 to 15 dollars are saved.  Early Education is a smart investment.

Please take a few moments today to call or write your legislators to urge them to vote no on the Ryan Budget and to tell them your story of how Early Education funding has benefited you, your program, and the families and children you serve.  These benefits may come from:
  • Having the opportunity to attend a college course that you could not have otherwise afforded and therefore improve your practice:
  • Being able to purchase materials for your program; 
  • Having access to a Mental Health Consultant or Quality Improvement coach; 
  • Being able to serve children from at-risk families through funding such as the Child Care Assistance Program; or
  • Receiving subsidies through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. 
In most cases, all of these programs rely on federal dollars and for them to continue a federal contribution is needed.  The gains that Early Education has made in recent years in increased funding only meet the tip of the iceberg in terms of need for these services.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children has an easy link to writing to your legislators: NAEYC'S Take Action Page.  Remember your stories of success are one of the most effective advocacy tools we have so tell yours today!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Comparing the Costs of College and ECE

Approximately, twenty years ago I joined the Worthy Wage Campaign to help bring attention to the fact that Early Childhood Educators were among the lowest paid workers in the United States.  Unfortunately, while wages for Early Childhood Educators have increased several recent reports still show that Early Learning is one of the lowest paid fields in the US and this is despite parents often paying a significant portion of their income on tuition.

This leads many to compare the tuition costs of Early Education and the cost of a college education, but the differences between the two are difficult to compare as they have different structures.  One such difference is student to teacher (or faculty) ratio.  The ratios in Early Learning programs are often much lower than at a college or university.  For example, U.S. News found that "among the 1,311 institutions that provided data to U.S. News, the average student-faculty ratio is 14.8. "  However, these numbers may be misleading as the reported college ratios do not reflect actual class size which may be as high as 500.  The highest legal ratio for infants in Colorado is 5 to 1, 10 to 1 for preschool, and 12 to 1 for prekindergarten. Colleges have a choice of where to set their ratios, regulations (justifiably so) limit a Early Learning program's ability to do so and best practice demands even lower ratios in order to meet children's needs.  

The Cost, Quality, and Outcomes study (Suzanne Helburn, et al; 1995) found that Early Learning programs spend, on average, 70% of their operating budgets on salaries, whereas according to Trends in College Spending:  Where Does the Money Come From?  Where Does it Go? (Wellman et al, 2009) colleges spend between 53% and 64% on instruction. In general, the recommended percent a business should pay for labor is around 35 percent.  Again, the numbers are not comparing identical markers, but it does provide some insight into the cost of operating each type of program as both industries are labor intensive.  The highly labor intensive nature of a college education is one reason why colleges have been able raise capitol to cover expenses.

However, one of the biggest differences is that colleges are not asked (though there are exceptions to this) to pay their employees poverty level wages. Nor are they demanded to accept 30-50% of their tuition in order to receive a subsidy for low-income students.  They are subsidized at 100% of the cost of tuition, or they provide a scholarship from other funding sources.  Let us start to demand this for Early Education professionals as a start to paying Early Learning professionals a decent wage.