Making a little over $35,000 doesn’t go very far in San Francisco, especially with housing costs through the roof. Imagine that meager pay level when you have already made an investment in post-secondary education.

Such is the case for the City’s 4,415 Early Childhood Education (ECE) professionals, who average $16.85 an hour and with 82 percent having attended college (one-third having achieved a Bachelor’s degree). ECE has the dubious distinction of affording graduates the lowest lifetime earnings of any college major.

This analysis comes from the San Francisco Child Care Planning and Advisory Council (CPAC). The CPAC is the state-mandated Local Planning Council (LPC), established to provide a forum for the identification of local priorities for child care and early education, and the development of policies to meet these needs. One of CPAC’s priorities for 2016 is advocating for increasing early care and educator pay to ensure a diverse and skilled workforce. 

To let people know of this situation, folks today took to the streets around San Francisco’s City Hall in the “Sixth Annual Walk Around the Block.” There were parents and children. Community members. Plus plenty of early childhood educators showcasing homemade signs demanding fairness for their profession. 

To support this advocacy, a contingent from Mission Promise Neighborhood took part in today’s event, with promotoras (community outreach workers) and parents from the Community Advisory Council part of the march. Mission Promise Neighborhood parents want their children to have the best early education possible, and for their children to graduate from college. Parents know that early childhood educators are critical to achieving this goal and that is why they showed up to support their teachers. Pay equity will help to attract and retain high-quality early childhood educators, and will allow them to stay in the City. Lourdes Dobarganes, promotora and mother of four, when asked why she is advocating for teachers stated, “¡Nuestros niños merecen maestros excelentes con sueldo digno!” (“Our children deserve excellent teachers that get paid fair wages!”)

“Birth to five is a critical stage of development, children deserve a high-quality early education, and this means that we need to invest in our early childhood workforce,“ explains Mission Promise Neighborhood Early Learning Manager Liz Cortez. Some cities have already been at the vanguard of overcoming this income disparity: New York City and Seattle now pay early childhood educators on par with K-12 educators.

In New York’s case, Mayor de Blasio two years ago announced steps to help community-based organizations attract and retain high-quality early childhood educators, as part of the historic expansion of full-day Pre-K programs for every child in the city.

Looking to replicate this model in equally pricey San Francisco, the hundreds who took to the streets today put forth a collective message that early childhood educators’ pay should be equal to that of K-12 educators.

Mission Promise Neighborhood is a collective of partners, many of them providing early care and education services to families with young children. These organizations experience challenges with attracting high quality early childhood educators because of the low wages and the high cost of living in San Francisco. High turnover is detrimental to young children who thrive on good relationships with their caregivers and teachers. Ada Alvarado, a former preschool teacher, left the early education field for many reasons, the principal reason being the low pay. She states, “There is a large disparity between the salary of early learning teachers and the cost of living in San Francisco. As a preschool teacher with a college degree and experience in the early learning field, I struggled to make ends meet with a preschool teacher salary. I invested so much in my profession and often asked myself, ‘Who was investing in me’?”

Children Services Division Director Dolores Terrazas of Mission Neighborhood Centers, a Mission Promise Neighborhood  partner, knows the need in the community. Terrazas states, “A quality experience in early education is directly linked to the investment in the people that provide this service; attracting, compensating and retaining teachers is paramount to a successful early education experience.”

These thoughts are echoed by Division Director Yohana Quiroz of Felton Institute Children, Youth and Family Services, also an MPN partner,  “Wage disparity for ECE teachers at Felton and across San Francisco is huge. Our teachers have dedicated their lives to serving our youngest learners and in making a difference in their school readiness and life trajectory.” Quiroz continues, “Despite being responsible for such a critical time in young children’s lives, the wage disparity between an ECE teacher and a K-12 educator is huge. These low wages make it difficult for them to afford living in San Francisco. Many actually qualify for public benefits.”

The cost of early care and education is increasingly high. An April 12 Wall Street Journal article titled, “States Where Day Care Costs More than College,” reported: ”In nearly half the country, it’s now more expensive to educate a 4-year-old in preschool than an 18-year-old in college, a finding that illustrates the rising burden many families face affording care for children.” Yet despite such increased costs, the pay for early childhood educators still lags.

It is time to close the wage gap between early childhood educators and K-12 educators.

To ensure that San Francisco elected officials and policymakers heard this message, Mission Promise Neighborhood promotoras and parents, along with their children, participated in various legislative visits after the march. They introduced themselves and the work of Mission Promise Neighborhood, plus spoke about the need to support early childhood educators. MPN families are committed to advocating for all young children in the Mission District.

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About Mission Promise Neighborhood
The Mission Promise Neighborhood is a citywide community partnership that was created to support kids and families living, working and attending school in the Mission District. It brings together schools, colleges, community organizations and community leaders to help kids graduate and families achieve financial stability.

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