The webinar opened with the CEF Executive Director, Sarah Abernathy, discussing the need for greater federal investment in education. Currently, education accounts for less than 2% of federal spending, with regular education funding remaining flat since 2009. While the proposed FY 2022 would provide an increase to education funding, it would fill only one-third of the ten-year funding gap once adjusted for inflation.
The first panelist, Miren Algorri, is the owner of Little Blossoms Child Care in California. California, child care facilities must close if there is a COVID-19 exposure. Only a few closures are covered, after which the child care facility is required to cover the costs. Due to this, it is difficult to stay in business, resulting in childcare deserts. Algorri argued that current federal childcare provisions, such as Head Start and block grants, are inadequate because they only server low-income families. Currently, there are 1.8 million children under the age of 5 in need of childcare, but there are only enough providers to care for a little over 1 million, meaning 40% of children under the age of 5 are without childcare.
Algorri stated that current subsidy rates are too low, limiting the number of children a facility can take in, increasing the needs of the community. Algorri explained that the cost of running a childcare facility is increasing. The average child care provider makes $13.50 an hour, which is not a livable wage anywhere in the US. Low wages make it impossible to hire the additional help needed to take on more children. Algorri argued that an early childhood education plan such as that included in the Build Back Better package is needed. Without such a plan, childcare facilities will be unable to cover costs, further exasperating current shortages.
The next panelist, Dr. Mark Davey, is the BOCES District Superintendent in New York. Dr. Davey claimed that teacher shortages are a critical need across the country, particularly in rural areas. Dr. Davey claimed that the teacher preparation pipeline has narrowed. Dr. Davey claimed that federal support in strengthening the teacher preparation pipeline, providing mental health services within schools, and expanding broadband are critical in addressing the current teacher shortage.
Dr. Kari Oyen, an Assistant Professor of Counseling and Psychology in Education at the University of South Dakota, focused on the need for mental health professionals in schools. 1 in 5 children has a diagnosable mental health disorder. Of the children that receive services, 75-80% of them receive services at school. Dr. Oyen claimed that Congress needs to pass a robust FY 2022 spending bill that includes provisions on expanding the school psychology workforce and building a pipeline of high-quality school psychologists.
Megan Schneider, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Federal Relations at the University of Houston System, focused on the role higher education plays in addressing teacher shortages. Schneider claimed that workforce shortages cannot be addressed without addressing the cost of college. Many students are disincentivized from entering into education professions due to the low pay which would not cover the cost of their college debts. To address workforce shortages, federal funding for higher institutions is needed to lower the cost of higher education. With lower costs, a greater number of students will have the financial capability to enter the education workforce. Additionally, Schneider recommended loan forgiveness of teachers after they get their degrees to encourage more students into this profession.
When asked how to best address the current shortages, the panelists recommended grants to cover tuition and build a stronger pipeline. Investments in tuition would then need to be accompanied by higher pay to attract students to the profession. In terms of child care, federal investment is essential in keeping childcare facilities open. Educators and childcare workers play a critical role in children’s development, and a failure to address the issues prevalent within the workforce is ultimately a failure to address the needs of children.