Early Learning

Mother teaching her little childEarly childhood educators care for our kids at poverty-level wages.

High-quality teachers transform childcare into an environment where early learning blossoms, boosting a child’s health, improving social cooperation and individual initiative, and improving their chances for success later in life.

But Washington’s early childhood educators are underpaid, with few incentives for training or education. High turnover and uneven quality characterize the workforce.

So in 1998, EOI set out with labor leaders, childcare center providers and parents to find a way to improve pay and training for teachers, keeping high-quality staff on the job.

The result was the Early Childhood Educator Career and Wage Ladder. The “Ladder” provides wage incentives for early childhood educators to pursue higher education relevant to their work and to excel in their chosen field.

It was an immediate success. With $12 million in funding from 2000-2003, approximately 125 centers implemented the Ladder, covering 1,500 employees caring for 15,000 children.

Funding for the Ladder was cut short when the state faced prolonged budget deficits – but when the economic tide turned, EOI, AFT Washington and other allies lobbied for restoration. Lawmakers responded by putting the Ladder into state statute. Ongoing budget allocations since 2007 now cover more than 70 centers.

Before-and-after studies conclusively demonstrate the Ladder yields improvements in the quality of child care, an increase in the number of trained teachers staying in the field, higher morale and greater sense of professionalism and satisfaction among teachers.

EOI has also created opportunities for teachers by expanding pathways to professional development. In 2009, EOI led a coalition of partner organizations in an effort to cement professional pathways for early learning teachers in state law. The bipartisan bill passed the legislature in 2009, taking the first steps toward training a high-quality early learning workforce in Washington State.

Going forward, EOI, the Early Learning Action Alliance and others will work to bring the Ladder to childcare centers across the state and expand pathways to professional development. Our goal is that every child in Washington has an educated and caring professional in the classroom to provide high-quality nurturing care and early learning.

Our History


EOI hosts educational events across the Puget Sound, with nationally-recognized speakers on a topics like Social Security, the state economy, paid sick days, and more.

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