Early childhood education teachers in Summit County will see a boost in wages | SummitDaily.com

Early childhood education teachers in Summit County will see a boost in wages

The Summit Board of County Commissioners shows support for allocating $2.4 million toward workforce development needs for Early Childhood Options

Artemis Ettsen with Wold Architects, Lucinda Burns and Kelly Renoux with Early Childhood Options and Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence discuss the first conceptual programmatic layout for the child care facility planned to go in by Smith Ranch in Silverthorne at a work group meeting Wednesday, July 21. More recently, Early Childhood Options is receiving $2.4 million in funding to support workforce development needs across the county.
Photo from Ryan Hyland

Early childhood educators in Summit County will be pleased to find out that beginning early September, their wages will be increased thanks to a $2.4 million sum from the Strong Futures fund.

Earlier this summer, the team at Early Childhood options met with the Summit Board of County Commissioners to discuss what to do with excess funding, which has been accumulated since the Strong Futures ballot initiative was passed by voters in 2018. Since then, the fund has accumulated $2.4 million, plus an additional eight months worth of operating expenses.

The conversation initially got its start because of concerns that the pandemic was exacerbating challenges within Summit County’s child care industry. During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 24, the commissioners showed preliminary support for allocating this $2.4 million toward workforce development for early child care educators.

“That goes to salary but also efforts to support and increase professionalism with training and other types of stipends to help people grow their knowledge and understanding of early childhood, so it’s a multi-pronged approach, but of course, trying to get wages up is going to be the lion’s share of the funding,” explained Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine in an interview.

During the meeting, all three commissioners discussed how many years they’d like to commit to supporting these efforts. Since Early Childhood Options is an independent nonprofit hub, the goal is to eventually have the organization operate as a self-sustaining entity that can support these increased wages over a longer period of time.

“It’s difficult because yes, we want to prevent turnover but we want to be aware, also, of the number of other circumstances right now, namely the lack of housing available,” said Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence during the meeting.

While the details are still being flushed out, Lawrence said in an interview that the commissioners showed support for a “strong two-year commitment” to increase wages and allow time for the team at Early Childhood Options to develop a new model to operate more on its own. At the same time, this funding provides immediate relief to the challenges faced now. Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said that there were about 28 open child care positions across the county, thus reducing the number of available spots and creating long waitlists for care.

“At the end of the day, this is all related to the economy,” Lawrence said. “If our kids are in quality child care then their parents can go to work. If their parents can go to work, that supports the economy, and we know that that’s incredibly important. Right now what we’re seeing is a loss of workforce across all sectors, not just child care.”

Burns said there are about 130 total positions in the county’s early childhood care industry and that the impact of the 28 open positions creates a large burden on parents, especially with those of infants and toddlers as there are a smaller number of these spots to begin with. Parents have to get on a waiting list that could take years to work through.

“It can be anywhere from several months to several years depending on the age group, location, the hours needed,” Burns said.

Vaine reiterated that when other companies are posting high starting wages, it’s difficult to attract talent — especially candidates with bachelor’s degrees — to a job with a starting salary that is significantly less.

“The training is a piece but when you see Target and Walmart and they’re starting rate is $17, $19 an hour, and then we’re asking people to come in and support little people and manage behaviors and keep them safe and all of that, we’ve got to be able to post an attractive wage,” Vaine said. “The work they’re doing is some of the most important work in the community. The stuff that happens in those little brains before age three is some of the most impactful across the lifespan.”

Vaine emphasized that this additional funding is a step in the right direction for attracting talent and filling positions at the beginning of the school year.

“It’s really an investment in our local teachers and an investment in our children and an investment in our workforce,” Vaine said.

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