It is every parent’s dream for their children to be happy and healthy. But many Arkansas parents are forced to choose between working to ensure their families’ financial stability or providing quality child care. Unfortunately, without access to quality child care, parents can’t meet the demands of their jobs or advance their careers. Many, in fact, have left the workforce entirely. And as a result, children aren’t receiving the benefits of stimulating learning environments during a critical period of brain development.
Just over one-third of child care slots are high quality in Arkansas. However PreK slots are more likely to be high quality; almost half (46 percent) in the state are the highest quality level. This is largely due to the number of preschool age slots funded by the Arkansas Better Chance program and Head Start, which covers the cost of providing high-quality care. These state- and federally-funded programs provide early care and education for families with lower incomes, but there is only enough funding for half of eligible children to participate.
Access to quality care is even more limited for younger children. Only a quarter of Arkansas’s infant and toddler slots are in programs with the highest quality rating. Comparing the number of parents in the workforce to the supply of licensed infant and toddler slots, just 1 in 10 parents are able to find quality care.
A primary reason for this issue is that what parents can afford to pay for child care does not cover the cost of quality care. Basing the price of child care on what a family can pay means providers cannot adequately compensate early childhood educators. According to UAMS, the early childhood education workforce faces high turnover and untenable levels of economic insecurity resulting from low wages and minimal benefits. Early childhood educators with an Associate’s degree earn around $11/hour and only half are offered health or dental coverage. Even those with similar education as Kindergarten teachers make at least $16,500 less working in early childhood education. To support our economy and build our future workforce, we must recognize the importance of competitive compensation for these educators.
In late 2020, nine chambers of commerce and economic development organizations and eight philanthropic organizations convened the Arkansas Early Childhood Education Task Force. They assessed these challenges and considered long-term improvements to develop recommendations for an inclusive early childhood education system. The recommendations will be released soon.