May 01, 2019

Let’s pay preschool educators a worthy wage

Source: AFT Voices


I know firsthand the difference a teacher can make in a student’s life.

When I was a child, my dad lost his job—and all too quickly, my family was forced to depend on food stamps to survive.

My English teacher must’ve known we were struggling because every so often, he’d make up an excuse for me and a few other hungry kids to stay after the final bell—then would apologize for keeping us late by giving us a few dollars for a meal, helping me focus on my education and not my empty stomach.

That teacher was exceptional. But he wasn’t unique. Rather, he epitomized the compassion of so many of the educators who help our kids learn, grow and become the best versions of themselves.

The power of the classroom

My older daughter began preschool last spring, and in the time since, I’ve realized more than ever the power of the classroom—especially in those early years when our kids’ minds are eager to absorb every new word and idea presented to them.

Decades of research have proven the benefits of high-quality early education. Studies suggest that the first eight years of a child’s life are instrumental in their long-term development and health. We also know that getting more kids into classrooms earlier on would widen our workforce, strengthen our economy and even bolster our national security, as right now nearly a third of potential military recruits aren’t eligible to enlist because they’ve either failed the military’s entrance exam or never earned a high school diploma or GED.

And yet despite all that, our country still treats early education as merely an afterthought.

There’s a reason why teachers from Illinois to California to West Virginia have spent much of the past year-plus on the picket line. It’s because for too long, we’ve taken advantage of teachers’ generosity and love for their students, assuming that they’ll continue to accept a salary far, far below their worth.

These are the people charged with our children’s safety—and yet we pay them so poorly that some struggle to afford groceries. We treat them so miserably that some are forced to quit the jobs they love just so they can afford next month’s rent.

Tell me how that makes any sense. Tell me why we give so little to the folks who take care of the kids we love so much.

Think of the exorbitant sums our government spends elsewhere. Consider, for example, the $125 billion of the Pentagon’s budget that was lost to bureaucratic waste in a single year, according to a 2015 report.

Imagine how many more kids would one day become doctors or Marines or teachers themselves if this country actually put adequate resources aside to rebuild our schools, expand child care access and pay our teachers anywhere near the amount they deserve.

The power of a living wage

That’s why I’ve been fighting to pass legislation like the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would invest in child care workers’ training and help them earn at least a living wage. And it’s why today, on Worthy Wage Day, I’m recommitting to doing everything I can to ensure that no teacher has to leave the classroom because our country doesn’t value the folks helping bring up the next generation—the educators who, right now, might be teaching the Golden Rule to a future President or teaching the ABCs to the child who will grow up to cure cancer.

By:  Tammy Duckworth