The Adults in the Room

Prioritizing the people who care for, teach and support our kids

By Ted Lempert

November 5, 2020

Child care providers, teachers, school nurses, pediatricians. These are just a few of the many adults who are involved in the daily lives of our children, and whose professions are focused on ensuring that kids grow up healthy, educated, happy and ready for whatever comes their way.

These adults – who have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of kids – are critically important to our collective future, yet they are not fairly compensated or supported when compared to similar professionals that work with adults. Professionals that work with children often lack adequate pay, have minimal, if any, access to quality professional development, and need far more support and training to do what is required of them, without burning out. Moreover, here in California, where well over the majority of our children are children of color, it’s imperative that the child-serving workforce more accurately reflects the diversity of the children it serves, which it currently does not.

As I’ve highlighted, more than once, children aren’t sufficiently prioritized in California. Kids’ issues aren’t taken as seriously, and their needs are too often overlooked – so it’s no wonder that the adults who work to support them face similar realities.

According to the 2020 California Children’s Report Card:

  • In California, on average, a child care provider earns $26,050 annually, and a preschool teacher earns $34,280 annually. In comparison, the average annual salary for a public employee is $81,549.
  • California ranks near the bottom among the 50 states in staff-to-student ratios. For example, the state has one guidance counselor for every 663 students.
  • There are 1,026 public school districts in California. 625 of those districts don’t even have one full-time equivalent nurse. Only 10 California districts average one nurse per school.
  • In California, 62% of public school teachers are white, yet 77% of public school students identify as non-white, or as students of color.

Adults who work with kids are getting paid less than their peers, while usually being held to higher standards with far fewer resources. How can we expect to increase and diversify this workforce, which is shrinking, as well as recruit and retain the best people for the jobs, if we aren’t willing to compensate them accordingly?

If you choose to work with kids, not only do you get paid less than your peers, but, in California’s public sector, child-serving jobs that require graduate education result in lower wages than many other jobs that require a college degree or even just a high school diploma.

Adults who work with kids require a unique set of competencies – additional credentials for educators, specialized training for health care professionals, and a deep understanding of the intersectionality of kids’ issues when it comes to social services and the juvenile justice system – to name just a few. These professionals make great personal and financial sacrifices to enter this workforce, but when they get there, they often don’t feel supported.

Why do so many teachers spend their own money to buy basic supplies for their students?

Why is the average tenure of a school superintendent less than three years, when the average city or county manager lasts eight to 10 years or longer?

Why does 58% of the early care and education workforce, which includes child care providers and preschool teachers, have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet?

Why are child welfare and school social workers, who make up 42% of all social workers in California, among the lowest paid across social work specialties?

If kids are the priority, people who work with kids should be the most important, and they should have the best training, professional development and compensation available. We need to make sure these professionals, who are passionate about and well-suited for working with kids, are well-trained, rewarded and that they stay in the workforce.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a deep dive into the child-serving workforce as it relates to early care and education, K-12 and higher education, physical and behavioral health, and the foster care system. Through this series, we’ll explore why these professionals, who are so critical to our economy and democracy, face severe compensation inequity, how we can ensure they receive the training and support they deserve, and what needs to be done to increase diversity and expand opportunity so that more people enter the child-serving workforce.We hope you’ll follow along – posts will be published here on the blog, and we’ll continue the conversation on our Twitter and Instagram pages.