Historically, early childhood educators have often been women of color who have had a wide range of educational backgrounds, and as a whole have been more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse than K-12 educators. This rich diversity has strengthened the educational experiences of young children as they grow to form self-identity, understand others’ identities and cultures, develop language skills, and grow socially and emotionally, all throughout the particularly sensitive period of rapid brain development from birth to five years old.

But recent policy changes that require early childhood educators to attain further credentials and degrees have the potential to decrease the diversity of the ECE workforce.

In collaboration with NAEYC, Ed Trust talked to early childhood educators of color from three states (New Jersey, North Carolina, and Wisconsin), from both center-based and home-based programs, about what they want to tell policymakers. Their message was clear: Early childhood educators are willing to put in the work of attaining more credentials, but policymakers have to put in the work to support these educators in order to make it possible.

So, what can federal, state, and local policymakers do to ensure the diversity of the ECE workforce? First and foremost, the early childhood educators of color to whom we spoke asked that policymakers engage in dialogue with them before they make policies and during the policymaking process, in order to make policies as successful as possible. Here’s what we heard from early childhood educators of color:

  1. Make It Affordable and Accessible: Combine Debt-Free and Loan-Forgiveness Policies
    Financial support is critical for ensuring that early childhood educators can successfully complete higher education programs. Such support includes tuition and related costs like travel, books, and hiring substitute teachers. Tuition-free and/or debt-free college is ideal, but if those avenues are not possible, then state and federal policymakers should invest in comprehensive scholarship models.
  2. Make It Possible: Reduce and Eliminate Non-financial Barriers to Success
    Early childhood educators must be able to access high-quality coursework that works with their complex schedules in order to successfully complete educational requirements. This includes courses offered both online and near their workplaces, at hours conducive to working full-time, and offered in a variety of languages. Financial and logistical support for childcare is also essential, as many early childhood educators have young children at home. These educators often do not have substitute teachers available or paid release time, which are also needed in order to complete coursework.
  3. Make It Align With Our Realities: Count All Settings
    Early childhood educators teach in a variety of settings: homes, centers, public and private schools, and more. Educators should have full access to state and federal scholarships, loan forgiveness programs, and any other available supports, regardless of their work setting.
  4. Make It Meaningful: Establish Comparable Compensation for Comparable Qualifications
    No matter what type of setting early childhood educators work in, they should be paid comparably for similar experience levels and qualifications. There should also be a clear line between increased educational attainment and increased compensation, which as of now is not guaranteed and is often unclear even as students reach the end of their coursework.
  5. Make It More Efficient: Create Seamless, Articulated Teacher Preparation Pathways
    States and higher education institutions must work together to streamline and clarify the teacher preparation process. Policies should make it clear to early childhood educators how their current experience level and degree credits, such as for Child Development Associate (CDA) Credentials and associates degrees, can be counted in attaining a bachelor’s degree.

Read five more policy recommendations and learn more about how this work centers the voices of educators of color in our new collaborative report with NAEYC.