Five bucks an hour.
That was all Arlington resident Connie Wilson made when she started working as an early educator in 1989. More than 30 years later, Wilson is still working in child care.
“We are not in child care for the money,” Wilson said. “You do have to have a heart to work with kids.”
Wilson now is on the path to a higher wage. She was one of 34 graduates from Camp Fire First Texas’ Early Educator Apprenticeship Program on Aug. 19 in Hurst. The program helps working early educators earn certifications and puts them on the path toward a stable, long-term career in child care.
Graduates earn a child development associate credential within two years.
Toni Sturdivant, vice president of early education at Camp Fire, sees earning a higher wage as one of the benefits of the program. Camp Fire works with apprentices’ employers to negotiate a wage increase that would go into effect after they graduate. However, the increase varies by employer.
“The hope is that we professionalize the profession,” Sturdivant said.
Child care faces a contradicting conundrum: the cost for parents is rising, yet providers cannot afford to pay their employees a decent wage. In Texas, child care workers earn an annual average wage of $25,910 — a wage that places a family of four under the poverty line.
Shawneequa Blount, the director of child care innovation at the Institute to Advance Child Care, discussed how low wages affect early educators during a Fort Worth Report-hosted conversation on Aug. 16.
“Child care programs are really trying to make sure that they can bring the best fold to care for our babies. But that is hard when you really just don’t have the revenue necessary to pay child care workers what they’re really worth,” Blount said.
Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates, described the industry as not doing well in the nation, Texas and Tarrant County, which is considered to be a bright spot.
“It gets really confusing because parents pay a lot for child care, but educators earn little,” Waddell said at the event. “The economics does not make sense.”
Sturdivant considers Camp Fire’s apprenticeship program as one piece of the puzzle to improve child care. The program is laying the framework by showing that child care needs a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, she said.
Low wages can affect children, Sturdivant said.
“If early educators are very stressed out because of unmet needs due to low wages, that stress impacts their ability to be able to perform to their highest potential as educators,” she said.
Starting this fall, Camp Fire is expanding the apprenticeship program beyond the entry-level credential. The program now includes a two- to three-year path toward earning an associate degree from Tarrant County College and a three- to five-year option for earning a bachelor’s degree from Tarleton State University. Both degrees would be in child development.
Camp Fire’s efforts are just a start toward improving child care, Sturdivant said.
“We do need some other people to be involved to really fix the child care wage issues,” she said.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.