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Study shows strength, struggles of Nebraska's child care providers, teachers

(MGN)

A new study shows promise within the early care and education field in Nebraska but also points to a number of significant challenges facing the teachers and child care providers in Nebraska.

Low compensation, lack of health and retirement benefits, uneven professional preparation, and stress are among the everyday challenges confronted according to Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey.

The survey was conducted by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. It said that participants represented four early childhood settings—licensed home-based childcare programs, licensed center-based programs, public PreKindergarten programs, and elementary schools serving children in Kindergarten through Grade 3 (K-3).

According to the survey, nearly 80 percent of children age 5 and younger in Nebraska are in some form of paid childcare, and 62 percent of mothers with infants are in the workforce.

“Teachers and child care providers are fundamental to young children achieving their potential and growing into capable and confident young people,”founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute Samuel J. Meisels said. “How we prepare, compensate, and support these professionals is a critical issue facing families, communities, and the state of Nebraska.”

Key findings include:

• Lack of Livable Wages and Benefits for Child Care Providers and Teachers: Home-based providers and center-based teachers earn a median wage of $11/hour, roughly half as much as PreK ($21/hour) and K-3 teachers ($23/hour.) (Center-based teachers’ median annual salary of $18,706 is nearly $7,800 below the poverty line for a family of four.) Less than half of all center-based teachers receive health insurance, paid maternity leave, and retirement benefits.

• Reliance on Second Jobs and Public Assistance: In differing ways and to differing degrees, both childcare providers and K-3 teachers supplement their salaries. Second jobs are more common among teachers and public assistance is more common among childcare providers. Approximately 20 percent of PreK and K-3 teachers hold second jobs, and 27 percent of home-based providers and 20 percent of center-based teachers utilize public assistance.

• Uneven and Often Insufficient Education and Preparation: Preparation to enter the workforce is uneven across settings. Nearly all PreK and K-3 teachers have bachelor’s degrees, but less than half of home-based providers and center-based teachers have a bachelor’s degree. Teachers living in urban areas tend to have more advanced degrees than teachers in rural areas. Less than half of K-3 teachers surveyed felt well prepared to work with families at the start of their careers, and between 27 percent and 50 percent of teachers and child care providers did not feel well prepared to teach at the beginning of their careers.

• Lack of Diversity: An overwhelming majority of Nebraska’s early childhood workforce is white. However, on average, classrooms are composed of 10 percent to 22 percent of students who are racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse.

• Stress and Well-Being: Eight percent to 11 percent of all early childhood educators report clinically significant depressive symptoms. Some teachers in all settings experience high levels of stress and low levels of support.

Results also showed that teachers tend to have considerable experience in the field—12 years or more on average—which demonstrates a commitment to their work. Teachers participate in a variety of trainings and ongoing professional development and, among teachers with degrees, most majored in education-related fields.

“If we want to provide high-quality care and learning experiences for young children, we must invest in the adults who provide it,” said Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Institute. “The research is clear that if we do so, everyone benefits—children, families, employers, and communities.”

To view the survey report, visit buffettinstitute.nebraska.edu/workforce-survey.

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