Lincoln, Neb. — A new study reveals some areas of 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 who guide and nurture young children’s learning and development during the critical first eight years of life.
Low compensation, lack of health and retirement benefits, uneven professional preparation, and stress are among the everyday challenges confronted by the more than 1,600 participants in the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey. Conducted by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, the survey is the largest, most comprehensive ever of the state’s early childhood workforce. Participants represented four early childhood settings—licensed home-based child care programs, licensed center-based programs, public PreKindergarten programs, and elementary schools serving children in Kindergarten through Grade 3 (K-3).
The findings have serious implications for families, employers, and communities statewide, said Samuel J. Meisels, founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Nearly 80 percent of children age 5 and younger in Nebraska are in some form of paid child care, 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,” Meisels said. “How we prepare, compensate, and support these professionals is a critical issue facing families, communities, and the state of Nebraska.”
The Institute announced findings from the survey report, titled Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey: A Focus on Teachers and Providers, today at the University of Nebraska's Sheldon Museum of Art before an audience of nearly 200 community and education leaders, public officials, early childhood professionals, and others.
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 child care providers and K-3 teachers supplement their salaries. Second jobs are more common among teachers and public assistance is more common among child care 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.
Despite these challenges, findings point to several areas of promise within the early care and education field in Nebraska. For example, 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.
The Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey provides an important first step toward ensuring a skilled, informed, and diverse workforce in Nebraska by documenting the status, working conditions, and attitudes of early childhood professionals across the state, said Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development at the Buffett Institute.
“If we want to provide high-quality care and learning experiences for young children, we must invest in the adults who provide it,” Sarver said. “The research is clear that if we do so, everyone benefits—children, families, employers, and communities.”
The report findings were presented today by Meisels. Additional featured speakers included State Senator Matt Williams, Nebraska Community Foundation President and CEO Jeff Yost, and Sarver. Following the presentation, a panel discussion focused on the experiences of early childhood professionals from across Nebraska. Panelists included Jennifer Baumann, owner of Little Angel Day Care (Chadron); Lisa Carlson, early elementary teacher at Norris Elementary School (Firth); Lisa Mathewson, PreK teacher at Pawnee City Public Schools (Pawnee City); and Thelma Sims, owner and director of Element Learning Center (Omaha).
The Buffett Institute conducted the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Survey with assistance from the Bureau of Sociological Research at UNL. Data collection occurred from May 2015 – February 2016. The first report—which focuses exclusively on teachers and providers—was authored by Sarver; Amy Roberts, research assistant professor at the Buffett Institute; and Iheoma Iruka, former director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute and chief research officer at HighScope Educational Research Foundation. Future reports from the survey will focus on early childhood programs and administrators.
To view the survey report, visit buffettinstitute.nebraska.edu/workforce-survey.