Parents are often hailed as a child’s first teacher, and rightfully so. However, it is important to recognize that they are not the only ones responsible for a child’s education and development.
Early childhood educators play a crucial role in shaping young minds. Their role extends far beyond teaching academic skills. They create nurturing and stimulating environments that foster social, emotional and cognitive growth. They are the architects of a child’s early educational journey, molding them into the leaders of tomorrow. They also provide dependable care so that working parents can reliably get to — and focus on — their jobs, knowing their kids are safe.
Early childhood educators are the backbone of today’s workforce. Without them, families would struggle to find suitable child care options, disrupting their ability to work and provide for their families.
However, despite their critical role, early childhood educators in Bucks County are profoundly undervalued and underpaid, with the average teacher making less than $30,000 a year, placing them in the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) population. They often struggle to provide for themselves and their own families.
As a veteran of over 20 years in early education, it breaks my heart to see passionate educators with so much to give forced to leave jobs they love in search of higher-paying opportunities. It is a loss for them, the children they serve, and our entire community. If we truly value the well-being and development of our children and want economically prosperous communities, we must acknowledge and reward the contributions of early childhood educators with fair compensation that reflects the significance of their work.
This year, as part of our state budget process, our elected officials had the opportunity to invest in our future and our present by increasing funding for critical programs like Pre-K Counts. They could have expanded access to high-quality early education for young children and increased salaries for early childhood educators. Unfortunately, when the budget was signed, funding for early education remained level. This means that wages for early childhood educators will stay stagnant, despite the increasing cost of living, and our existing worker shortage will worsen. It is deeply disappointing.
While we did not see increases at the state level, United Way of Bucks County secured a significant expansion for our Pre-K Counts program. Roughly 450 children countywide will benefit from free, high-quality Pre-K — a 44% increase from the 2022-23 school year.
The program is offered at 15 of the highest-quality early education sites in Bucks County. Thanks to the expansion, no family in Bucks County is more than 15 minutes away from a United Way Pre-K Counts partner.
But here’s the problem: we can only serve these families if we can attract and retain talented educators. There is no early ed ecosystem without them. We must provide livable wages and benefits. Recognizing the value of early childhood educators and addressing the compensation gap is not just a matter of fairness; it is an investment in our entire community.
So while we celebrate our Pre-K Counts expansion, we also lament this missed opportunity.
We must remember that early childhood educators, who are essential to this program’s success, continue to face financial insecurity due to inadequate wages. We can and must do better, working united towards a future where early childhood educators are valued, empowered, celebrated and adequately compensated for their pivotal role in Bucks County’s growth and prosperity.
Kristi Moreno is Impact Director for Pre-K Education at United Way of Bucks County.