by Tami Havener, Executive Director of Family Development Center in Routt County
Our state’s focus on the Early Childhood Workforce and the I2I project is very exciting. From my perspective as a Director of a medium size early learning program for more than 30 years, this initiative has such promise.
I have experienced over time, increasing state regulations for both teacher qualifications and job expectations. As a nationally accredited (NAEYC) center since 1990, we have always had higher expectations for teachers. While meeting or exceeding accreditation standards has always been a choice, recently, regulatory requirements have made recruitment and retention more difficult.
Being able to find the person who is the right fit for an organization has always been tricky. Add onto that, finding someone who has all of the educational or training requirements met before they can begin in a classroom with children has exponentially increased the dilemma. This is exacerbated by working in a community where training is not readily available.
Once the right person is recruited, retaining becomes an issue especially when compensation parity with public school teachers is still an unattainable goal. I feel blessed to have some of my best teachers for 10-20 years. Still, we consistently lose good teachers to the public school system, or to less demanding jobs.
As an agency with just under 20 staff, we are constantly working to increase compensation and benefits. And while donations and grants help, these are most often not sustainable. So when we added health insurance and a retirement plan as a benefit for our staff, we had to pass that cost on to families as a tuition increase. We all know that Colorado is one of the most expensive states for child care. It is always a balancing act of compensating teachers fairly and honoring a family’s ability to pay for early childhood care and education.
It is said “when we know better, we do better.” Well, we know how critically important these early years are. Yet we still depend upon families’ ability to pay, and teachers’ foregone wages to primarily fund our early childhood system. There needs to be other strong contributors at the table, in order for all of us to “do better” by our youngest. And we need to honor family choice with a mixed delivery system to meet various family needs.
Our state’s Workforce project efforts have a huge task in solving or even making a significant dent in this issue. I am hopeful that we can move forward together.