More than 116,000 children would benefit from a high-quality early child care and education system in Arkansas

New research estimates that a “values-based” early child and education (ECE) system would benefit Arkansas’s children, teachers, and parents. A comprehensive publicly financed system that compensates educators fairly would serve between 116,000 and 154,000 children and employ between 48,000 and 65,000 teachers.

The report, from Economic Policy Institute and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, explains that many proposals for ECE reform have focused primarily on improving access and affordability for families, but have ignored a critical issue with the system: ECE is substantially “funded” through low teacher pay and inadequate supports for ECE teachers—who are primarily women, specifically women of color.

The authors find that ECE teachers with a bachelor’s degree are paid 31 percent less than their colleagues in the K-8 system. And the poverty rate for early educators is 18.1 percent, nearly twice as high as for Arkansan workers in general and more than seven times as high as other teachers.

Despite low early educator pay, care still costs too much for families. Parents in Arkansas currently spend almost $200 million on early care and education, while Arkansas receives just $218 million in federal subsidies.

Earlier analysis found that the current average annual cost of infant care in Arkansas is $6,726. Infant care for one child takes up 14.3 percent of a median family’s income in Arkansas, and a minimum wage worker in Arkansas would need to work full time for more than 15 weeks just to pay for childcare for one infant. It is important to note that these figures represent the current averages, and do not reflect the cost of quality infant care, which may cost twice the average or more.

A new system that draws more heavily on public financing would not just have the capacity to provide high-quality early care for more children, but would also lessen the burden that parents face under the current system.

Arkansas would benefit tremendously by making a serious investment in early care and education. By paying early child care educators in line with their K-12 peers, we hope to create opportunities that offer a pathway to the middle class — rather than poverty — for those who do the crucial job of teaching our young children.