Op-Ed | More childcare options for families with a living wage for educators

Student showing off finger painting in classroom.
Child care is still prohibitively expensive for many families, and many programs are short-staffed due to poor wages, writes Shoshana Hershkowitz.
Photo courtesy Getty Images

Every family deserves high quality, affordable childcare. Without it, parents are forced out of the workplace and children miss out on crucial early learning opportunities. Parents and providers are looking to legislators to close the gap by making sure childcare providers earn a living wage, while continuing to expand access to financial support for families who need help paying for care.

Our current system is dysfunctional and fails to meet the needs of anyone — parents, children or providers. Many families have their children on waiting lists that are more than two years long. A big part of this problem is the shortage of childcare educators. Many programs are operating below capacity, simply because they cannot find enough staff. This will not change until the childcare workforce is compensated with a living wage.

Childcare educators are in the bottom 3% of earners, making as little as $2.25 per hour for one child. Almost all are women and most of them are women of color. No amount of passion will keep people in the childcare workforce when they cannot earn enough to care for their own families. It’s truly sad that a person can make a better wage in an entry-level retail job than they can caring for our precious children.

Despite this, childcare is still prohibitively expensive for too many families. Our state is leading the nation by expanding access to financial assistance – yet to obtain this assistance, families must navigate significant administrative hurdles that include processing delays and waitlists, frequent recertifications, burdensome documentation requirements and inequities in eligibility rules across counties.

Moreover, the governor, the state Senate and the Assembly budget proposals exclude children due to their immigration status. This affects 23,000 children in New York state. As we welcome families, including asylum seekers, to our state, we must remove barriers that prevent children from receiving crucial early childhood education.

The common sense solution is streamlining application processes; reducing wait-times for approval; ending long waitlists and too-frequent recertifications; taking aim at unrealistic rules like limiting assistance to the exact hours of work; and continuing to chip away at confusing, inequitable variations in rules among counties.

Gov. Hochul noted this problem in her State of the State address, but her executive budget fell short of meeting the need, and included nothing to supplement childcare educators’ wages. Only the state Senate has released a budget with the necessary levels of funding to ensure that New York’s historic eligibility expansions are not an empty promise for families. As we near the April 1 budget deadline, it is crucial that both increasing access to childcare and bolstering childcare educators’ wages survive the negotiations and are included in the final budget.

Access to early childhood education benefits everyone. Parents are able to make better decisions for their families when they are able to access high-quality, low-cost childcare. Providers can offer better early childhood education programs to more children when educators are able to make a living wage. And children benefit from access to those programs — regardless of their immigration status — setting them on a better path for success as they approach kindergarten.

A budget that meets the needs of parents, providers and children includes more funding to bolster the earnings of childcare educators, a better-streamlined process for parents to qualify for financial assistance, and an end to the unnecessary and cruel exclusion of immigrant children.

I urge our legislators in the Democratic leadership to put the needs of our communities first, and address the childcare crisis with holistic solutions that invest public money in the public good.

Shoshana Hershkowitz is Statewide Organizer for Education and Childcare at Citizen Action of New York.

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