In 2019, myFutureNC announced the postsecondary attainment goal of having two million North Carolinians between the ages of 25-44 hold a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree by the year 2030 (myFutureNC, 2020a). One credential that will play a key role in supporting the 2 million attainment goal is the North Carolina Early Childhood Credential (NCECC). In addition to tying directly into the primary attainment goal of two million North carolinians with high quality credentials or postsecondary degrees, creating a workforce with high-quality early childhood educators plays a key role in supporting other key education performance indicators such as postsecondary enrollment and completion rates, family-sustaining wages, and labor market alignment. High-quality credentials are defined as “postsecondary nondegree credentials associated with a significant earnings premium for individuals who hold them” (myFutureNC, 2020b). To earn a NCECC and serve as a lead teacher in a childcare program, early childhood educators are required to complete one community college course. Given that childcare workers in North Carolina are, on average, not paid family-sustaining wages, and that the credentialing requirements for the NCECC currently consist of a single course, the NCECC does not meet the definition of a high-quality credential (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). In North Carolina, early childhood educators are seven times more likely to live in poverty than K-8 teachers (McLean, Austin, Whitebook, & Olson, 2021). Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, childcare workers are essential workers who play a vital role in our state, and the high level of job openings in the field in conjunction with the high poverty rate of those who work in the field reveals that there is a mis-alignment in the labor market. Thus, any strategy for increasing the number of North Carolinians with high-quality credentials must consider the importance of creating high-quality credentialing options for childcare workers in tandem with ensuring childcare workers are paid family-sustaining wages. Doing so will create a stronger childcare workforce, which will, in turn, lead to better educational outcomes for young North Carolinians throughout the course of their lives.
Recommendations for Policymakers in North Carolina
State policymakers can work towards the 2030 attainment goal through the following actions:
Align paid clinical practice with raised requirements for the North Carolina Early Childhood Credential (NCECC): To establish the NCECC as a high-quality credential, the requirements for the NCEC credential should be raised from one course (Allen & Kelly, 2015; Gardner, Malnick, Melnoy, & Barajas, 2019). Requirements for the credential must include high-quality clinical practice, involving supervised student teaching experiences, which could take the form of a registered apprenticeship program (Allen & Kelly, 2015; Gardner, Malnick, Melnoy, & Barajas, 2019; Hyson, Tomlinson, and Morris, 2009; Workman, 2019). While educators are pursuing the NCECC, they should be allowed to teach through a supervised induction period, contingent on their continuing enrollment in the ECE degree program (Allen & Kelly, 2015). Raising the credential requirements promotes an equitable approach when coupled with a paid apprenticeship model as described in the Virginia model. An opportunity to be paid while learning addresses the disproportionate financial burdens faced by Black and brown women who are highly represented in early childhood educator programs.
Expand programs that provide pay incentives for childcare workers who pursue higher education in order to ensure that all childcare workers are paid a family sustaining wage: North Carolina is fortunate to be the home of the WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H Scholarship Programs. However, despite being home to the program, only 55 of North Carolina’s 100 counties participate in WAGE$, in large part due to the high costs of participating in child care programs and local communities. Similarly, during the 2019-20 academic year, of the 37,000 early educators in North Carolina, the T.E.A.C.H. scholarships reached only 2,405 educators (CCSA, 2020d). By increasing state-level financial support for these programs and reducing the burden on local communities to fund these programs, policymakers will show a commitment to fairly compensating childcare workers, and in developing the early childhood education workforce (Kaplan, 2018). The North Carolina Early Childhood coalition recommends growing WAGE$ into state-level and state-wide salary supplement programs, and creating an additional state-level salary initiative through the state’s QRIS and child care subsidy system (North Carolina Early Education Coalition, 2021). By introducing and expanding programs that will increase the pay for the childcare workforce, policymakers will ensure more North Carolinian families are financially stable, and will incentivize highly educated teachers to stay in the childcare field (Allen & Kelly, 2015; Kaplan, 2018).
Support early childhood education programs in receiving NAEYC accreditation: North Carolina is a leader in NAEYC higher education program accreditation nationwide. However, the costs of receiving accreditation have led some community colleges to give up, or plan to give up, their accreditation. Increasing financial and logistical support for NAEYC program accreditation efforts will show a commitment to providing high-quality higher education options for early childhood educators, including childcare workers (Allen & Kelly, 2015; Kaplan, 2018).
Expand data and research efforts that focus on the childcare workforce: By expanding data systems for systematically gathering information on the early childhood workforce, including data on education background, demographics, qualifications, experience, income, and participation in professional learning, as well as funding additional research on quality, and quality improvement in ECE programs, policymakers can ensure they have the data they need to make informed decisions about the needs of the early childhood education workforce (Allen & Kelly, 2015; Hyson, Tomlinson, & Morris, 2009; Kaplan, 2018).