Earlier this month, a bill to raise wages for early childhood educators was heard by the Rhode Island House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, and received no opposition. The bill, called the Early Educator Investment Act, seeks to raise compensation for educators of young children, including infants and toddlers. It will now move to the Senate for further consideration. 

The Early Educator Investment Act is a component of the Right from the Start initiative, a legislative and state budget campaign to advance policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island. 

“It is an important piece of the foundation for Right from the Start,” said Rep. Julie Casimiro, one of the bill's co-sponsors. 

On Feb. 27, a coalition of advocacy groups launched the Right from the Start campaign at the statehouse, with a focus on increasing access to quality, affordable child care. Several state leaders were in attendance at the launch of the campaign, including Gov. Gina Raimondo, Rep. Grace Diaz and Sen. Sandra Cano. 

According to the website for the legislative campaign, Right from the Start is seeking to fund programs and policies that would support children from prenatal to preschool. 

“While Rhode Island has much to offer, the reality is too many families struggle to support their young children during the critical early years of brain development,” the website reads. “Rhode Island needs sustainable state funding and must raise additional state revenue for programs and policies that support families and their children from prenatal to Pre-K. These investments will pay dividends for our children’s success and our state’s economy for years to come.”

The campaign has seven legislative priorities: paid family leave, community-based doula services, a family home visiting prevention program, a child care assistance program, preschool expansion, a housing and early learning facilities bond and early educator workforce development. 

The Early Educator Investment Act, which falls under the early educator workforce development portion of the legislative agenda, was sponsored by Rhode Island Reps. Joseph McNamara, Gregg Amore, Susan Donovan, Mia Ackerman and Casimiro. 

“The bill would allow us to set strategies and goals for a solid compensation plan for early childhood educators,” Casimiro said. 

According to the proposed legislation, many of the early educators and early childhood professionals in Rhode Island “earn very low wages even when they achieve credentials equivalent to kindergarten through grade twelve teachers and demonstrate effective practices.” 

“Childcare, family home visiting and early intervention programs across the state report difficulty attracting, developing and retaining effective early childhood professionals,” the bill states. 

A childcare teacher in Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2018, earns a median wage of about $12 per hour, well below the state median wage of roughly $20 per hour. The amount childcare teachers receive is also much less than that of kindergarten teachers, who receive an average annual income of around $65,000. 

The goal of the Early Educator Investment Act would be to establish a target wage scale to promote higher wages for childcare teachers. If approved, and once the target wage scale has been established, strategies and estimated costs will be drawn up to close the gap between current wages and the target wage scale, equal to the wages of public school teaching staff or individuals with similar credentials. 

The bill also cites a report issued by the National Academy of Science in 2015, which found that educators of young children, including infants and toddlers, need “the same high level of knowledge and competencies as teachers of older children,” and that “educational qualifications and compensation of early educators should be equivalent to those of kindergarten through grade 12 teachers.”

Casimiro, who previously worked at two child welfare agencies, said she has “always been active in the area of early childhood education.” 

“That said, I am completely aware of how important the early years are for our youngest and most vulnerable population,” she said. “It is important for us to provide them with the greatest possible start in life and that includes early education.”

She went on to say that the Early Educator Investment Act was a “good first step” to maintaining quality early childcare teachers. 

“Quality teachers would provide quality programming but the current salaries are low and quality teachers can’t be attracted or retained,” she said. “This is a good first step for us to lay out a strategy and goals.”

Casimiro added that, because the bill received no opposition in the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, she hoped that it would receive similar support in the Senate so the legislation could get passed by the end of this year’s legislative session.

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