Guest Column

I am writing in response to Katy Brooks’ recent guest column, “Child Care Needed a New Start Before — Now, It’s Necessary.”

I own and operate an in-home preschool program in Bend. Due to COVID-19, we have been closed since March 13, with plans to reopen this fall. If it weren’t for my other two part-time jobs, it is unlikely we’d even be planning to reopen.

When we do reopen, it will be with fewer children and families, increased costs, higher stress and greater restrictions.

These restrictions are necessary for the health and well-being of our school community and Central Oregon at large, but that doesn’t make them easily implementable or financially sustainable.

Brooks suggests several potential solutions such as micro-centers and shared service models to “get us closer to an economically viable, high-quality child care system.” She mentions we need to “rethink how we can ensure there is quality child care at a price we can all afford.”

But what about the cost to providers and early childhood educators? What is the cost to us? How can we ensure that we can afford to operate, and perhaps even make a profit while continuing to provide developmentally appropriate, high-quality programming to the youngest in our community?

Child care and working with children zero to 5 years of age has historically been seen as “women’s work,” otherwise known as a pink-collar occupation.

These are the fields of care: teaching, nursing, social work and so on. We know that any occupation primarily occupied by women has a cultural history of devaluation and low wages. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the national median annual wage for preschool teachers is $28,570 — roughly half of what elementary school and kindergarten teachers earn in a year.

The typical assistant preschool teacher in Oregon earns between $12 and $15 an hour.

The average owner of a Certified Family Child Care Home (what my preschool operates, according to state licensing) earns less than $30,000/year.

Many of these positions fail to provide health insurance options, sick leave and other so-called perks we would consider nonnegotiable in most occupations. Providers and educators engage in numerous continuing education opportunities (often in the evenings and on weekends) and many have associate, bachelor’s and even master’s degrees. It’s not shocking so many folks with a calling to the early years gravitate to the K-12 system instead.

Our community had an awakening amid COVID-19 — we need our hairdressers, estheticians and dog groomers! Many have returned to work with clients full of gratitude and generous tips.

Their equally low wages are often subsidized by cash tips. This is not the case for those working with young children. There is no implied bonus for a job well done or service that goes above and beyond expectations.

What we need are systemic and structural changes to the way we envision caring for and educating our youngest. Child care providers and early childhood educators should be viewed as essential workers and compensated accordingly.

It’s going to take more than trendy models and Band-Aids on an already broken system. Those of us working with young children are essential and should be treated accordingly. Our work is worthy of higher wages and respect.

There will need to be a cultural shift in how we view the role of child care providers in our community and our nation as a whole. We need a complete revisioning. We need more than a new start. We need a complete revamping of the system as we know it.

Teresa L. Ashford is the owner of Aspen Academy Preschool in Bend.

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