Washington State Early Learning Hiring and Retention Survey

Statewide Survey Shows Low Pay, High Turnover Cause Education Quality Deficits

For a PDF of detailed methodology and survey results, click here.

Ensuring that every child in Washington State has access to in high-quality early childhood education is critical to providing educational opportunity for all children, building family economic security, and promoting a vibrant economy.

But early-education professionals in Washington State are earning barely more than minimum wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual income of a childcare worker in 2017 was $27,800, less than a pet sitter’s $30,120.

This year, EOI sent out a survey on compensation, health care and turnover to directors of 3,456 of the 5,488 licensed child care centers in Washington. The survey contained 40 questions and 529 respondents – 15.3 percent – filled out a significant portion. The results have a margin of error of 4 to 5 percent, depending on the question, with a confidence level of 95 percent.

The results were striking:

  • 51 percent of centers had unfilled positions at the time the survey was completed.
  • In the prior week, 62 percent of directors had to cover a classroom because a substitute or other individual was not available.
  • 32 percent of programs reported the need to limit their enrollment in the past 2 years due to lack of staff. An average of 15 children are not being served at each of these centers because of the staff shortages. Of those that limited enrollment, 63 percent reported that finding qualified staff was a major factor.
  • Of the centers that reported that they are considering future expansion, 68 percent are concerned “a great deal” about their ability to find qualified staff.
  • 58 percent indicated it was difficult to retain new hires, with assistant teachers having the highest turnover rate. Twenty-one percent indicated that more than 50 percent of their staff have been with their center/program less than one year.
  • Wages are low for the vast majority of staff: According to respondents, 51 percent of new lead teachers make less than $14/hour. 75 percent of new assistant teachers make less than $14/hour. 86 percent of aides make less than $14/hour and 56 percent make less than $12/hour. 47 percent of family support workers make less than $14/hour. 88 percent of directors indicated that low pay was a major reason it was difficult to hire qualified staff.
  • Only 47 percent of respondents provide health insurance to all or some of their employees. Of those who provide health insurance, 60 percent provide it only to full-time employees, while 12 percent provide it to all employees. Almost all of those who do not provide health insurance indicated they could not afford to provide it.

Early childhood education in Washington is in crisis. For parents, it can cost as much as college tuition. For educators, it’s hard work at almost minimum wage with few benefits. For children, many are turned away because the centers can’t afford to hire staff to care for them.

We need to start treating early childhood education seriously – if we want good teachers for our young children, we need to pay them as well as teachers for other ages.

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