While it is true that childcare employment remains lower than it was before the onset of the pandemic, we are now 1 million professionals strong for the first time since March 2020. Providers have used stabilization grants and other supplemental funds to offer wage increases, sign-on bonuses, and wellness benefits in an effort to patch up a sector on the brink of collapse. State and sector leaders have invested in more systems-level strategies, such as the proliferation of Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs), that make it easier to join the workforce, even after stabilization grants and supplemental funds expire within the next year.
Where there is growth, however, there is also inequity. Private, independent providers without an auspice or sponsorship (whether for-profit or non-profit) are less likely to have the capacity to apply for, design, and manage RAPs that help them develop their teacher pipelines and retain their workforce. If we believe in the benefits of a mixed-delivery system, we must make workforce development solutions accessible to the small business owners who are taking care of a substantial number of our children. It begins with broadening access to the CDA.
Expanding access to CDA Credentialing
As an organized, competency-based credential, the CDA represents foundational knowledge and skills essential for early childhood educators. Many CDA training programs, such as Teachstone’s CDA with CLASS, represent a convenient, user-friendly teacher preparation alternative to traditional higher education models. Teachstone, for example, offers an asynchronous learning pathway in its CDA with CLASS that can be completed in just 24 weeks.
As a result, RAPs across the country are incorporating CDA certification as a primary step in a pathway marked by degree milestones, credentials, and corresponding wage increases. Because general state licensing requirements have been low and inconsistent, however, private, independent providers have not grown accustomed to leading or participating in teacher preparation mechanisms that connect employees to CDA training and higher education.
Today, 33 state preschool programs nationwide require lead teachers to have a bachelor's degree, and 19 programs require assistant teachers to hold a CDA. Outside of publicly funded pre-k, no state requires lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and only two states, plus the District of Columbia, require assistant teachers to have a CDA or equivalent. In an effort to compete with public programs, multi-state child care chains are paying for their teachers to obtain CDA certification. Smaller providers simply do not have the resources to offer such an employee benefit and compete with the larger chains. But we can level the playing field through thoughtful, local collaboration.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Labor appropriates $10B to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). These funds are distributed through state and local agencies, often local American Job Centers, that use the funds to offer eligible individuals academic support, student support services (such as childcare and transportation), tuition, case management, career coaching, and job placement. Over the past five years, the ECE sector has impressively leveraged WIOA funds to fuel Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs) – there were only 5 states that offered ECE RAPs less than a decade ago, compared to over half the states in the nation today.
Although RAP development and management may not be feasible for smaller programs, they can still access WIOA funds to cover the costs of CDA certification for their employees. Training vendors, community colleges, Workforce Development Boards (WDBs), and providers can work together to ensure that CDA training programs are available on their state’s Eligible Training Provider list – a list of qualified training providers who offer a wide range of educational programs and employment training resources that are funded by WIOA dollars.
A model for Recruiting and preparing teachers
Once a CDA program is on the list, a small business owner’s teacher recruitment and preparation process might go as follows:
- The provider works with a WDB and local American Job Center on a teacher recruitment campaign that highlights free CDA training and job placement upon training completion.
- When someone applies, the provider connects the applicant to the American Job Center staff member, who opens an Individual Training Account with the CDA vendor and covers the cost of the CDA for the teacher.
- The American Job Center then works with a counselor at the local community college to advise the teacher on educational pursuits beyond the CDA.
- Once the CDA is obtained and the teacher is employed full-time, the provider notifies the American Job Center, which uses the data to build its case for drawing down more WIOA dollars.
There is one major barrier that must be addressed to give this local collaboration legs. Community colleges must form articulation agreements with CDA training programs to grant college credits for CDA completion, preventing unnecessary duplication of coursework and saving students time and money. To further democratize access to the CDA, states can also ensure that T.E.A.C.H scholarships may be applied to CDA certification.
Reaching the Opportunity Youth
There are currently over 5 million “Opportunity Youth” – people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market – eligible for WIOA-funded services. By focusing on collaborative initiatives that leverage existing resources, we can create seamless transitions into the workforce for dislocated workers and level the provider playing field at the same time.