The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the early child care and education (ECE) workforce, which includes child care, Head Start, and preschool and assistant teachers as well as kindergarten, first, second and third grade educators. Many child care centers and home-based providers closed, and some didn’t receive salaries and benefits. Many ECE providers that stayed open and early grade school teachers worried about meeting their basic needs and are seeking to engage students who experienced developmental learning losses and missed out on social development during closures.
The American Rescue Plan Act and other legislation provide funds to stabilize the ECE workforce. Child care facilities, Head Start, and preschool and elementary schools have received billions in supplemental funding that could be allocated to strengthen the quality and diversity of the ECE workforce. States, communities, federal agencies, and institutions of higher education have important roles in distributing these funds, and many decisionmakers are seeking evidence-based solutions to determine funding priorities for rolling them out.
Recently, early career researchers in the Young Scholars Program explored challenges of the ECE workforce and identified policy solutions. Young Scholars receive grant funding from the Foundation for Child Development to lead research about the ECE workforce. The Urban Institute supports the Young Scholars through ongoing professional development and by editing Young Scholars’ policy papers that summarize key research on the ECE workforce.
The Young Scholars found the following:
- Assistant teachers working in Head Start and Early Head Start have an important role in supporting increasingly linguistically diverse young children. The research found assistant teachers are more likely to speak their students’ languages, and their role in supporting classroom instruction is commensurate with the role of lead teachers. The evidence suggests assistant teachers are often overlooked for professional development opportunities, and specific efforts could better support them in meeting the cultural and linguistic needs of young children in Head Start.
- Early childhood educators in New York City face stress in an anti-immigrant climate. The research found that the anti-immigrant climate increased emotional and financial stress and suggests ECE providers could offer socio-emotional and mental health supports to early childhood educators. Moreover, educators could benefit from interventions that support the children and families attending their programs.
- Kindergarten and first grade teachers have an important role in supporting young children’s regular attendance. Research suggests attendance is correlated with students’ outcomes and that teacher preparation programs could help. As elementary schools are developing and implementing their pandemic recovery plans, it is especially important for preservice teacher preparation programs to provide kindergarten and first grade teachers with supervisors who support them in addressing absenteeism. And, it is important for districts to provide teachers with resources to support them in their efforts to address this problem.
Federal, state, and community policymakers can use this evidence to inform how they distribute American Rescue Plan and other funding to best support and strengthen the ECE workforce. Evidence from the Young Scholars program suggests the following:
- A portion of the $1 billion in additional Head Start and Early Head Start funds could support professional development for assistant teachers—acknowledging their important role in creating supportive It could also be used for interventions that reduce the stress children and ECE educators experience from racism.
- A portion of the more than more than $39 billion (PDF) increase in Child Care and Development Funds could support professional development and interventions to reduce ECE educators’ stress (PDF). Or, it could focus on how to best improve attendance among young children, many of whom were not attending programs during the pandemic (PDF).
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds could support professional development, especially for preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers, to help them focus on attendance. Because of last year’s remote schooling, schools and teachers have expressed concern about learning loss, and concerted attention on attendance will be important as the new school year approaches.
- Some of the $39.6 billion in higher education funds from the American Rescue Plan and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Acts’ funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III could be used to support the entire ECE workforce as they create optimal classrooms, support children and their families, and offer credentials and degrees that position assistant teachers, lead teachers, and all members of the ECE workforce for success.
Stimulus funding provides a historic opportunity for states, communities, federal agencies, and higher education institutions to focus on evidence-based improvements to the well-being of the ECE workforce. The Young Scholars’ new research points to evidence-based solutions that could inform these policy decisions.
The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success.