The colliding of pandemic health and safety policies and historic underinvestment in early learning has culminated in worrying trends in the education workforce. In fact, the sector has seen a decline of more than 160,000 jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In today’s episode, you’ll hear from a panel that includes Shanda Parkinson and Amanda Horne of the Davis School District Head Start program in Utah and Lauren Bell, and Associate at Ready Nation. Together, our guests discuss the latest trends in the early childhood education workforce with data from their new report, The Workforce Behind the Workforce in North Carolina. And, hear the strategies that one district is using to recruit, train, and retain its educators.


We're on break for the holidays until we come back in early January. Our next episode brings together Anne Hedgepeth at Child Care Aware® of America and Tiffany Lee from the Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning. We're talking about federal funding opportunities, how states plan to use the money, and specifically what the money could mean for family child care providers across the country. Be sure to subscribe

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Marnetta: Welcome to Impacting the Classroom, the podcast where you can listen to dynamic interactions among educators, policymakers, and researchers who are making an impact in education. I'm Marnetta Larrimer.

Darlene: I'm Darlene Estes-Del Re. Today, we're excited to be joined by three panelists, and we are in for a really good conversation today. First, we have Shanda Parkinson. Shanda currently works for Davis Head Start as the lead education coach, and she received her bachelor's and her master's degrees from Utah State University in Family and Human Development.

She also works as adjunct faculty at both Utah State University and Brigham Young University-Idaho, teaching courses in child development, preschool education, and developmentally appropriate curriculum. Her experience includes eight years within Utah State University's Child Development Laboratories, as well as teaching first and second grade. Welcome, Shanda.

I'd also like to introduce you to Amanda Horn. Amanda also works for Davis Head Start, and she works as an Education Specialist. What's unique about both Amanda and Shanda is that their Head Start program sits within Davis School District. We might talk about that later, but I thought I'd point that out in their introduction.

Amanda received her bachelor's degree from Colorado Technical University in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on Human Services. Her experience includes 12 years as a General Education Teacher with Special Education. She received the Best of Davis Award awarded to her by Davis School District. Congrats on that honor.

Next, I'd like to introduce you to Lauren Bell. Lauren is an Associate with ReadyNation. For those of you who might not be as familiar with ReadyNation, I want to just describe their work to you because it's pretty exciting. ReadyNation leverages the experience, influence, and expertise of approximately 3000 business executives across the country to promote public policies and programs that build a stronger workforce and economy. This part was super impressive to me.

Since 2006, ReadyNation members have made a bottom-line case for effective bipartisan investments in children as the future workforce that will drive success in the global marketplace. ReadyNation is one of three primary membership groups that make up the council for a strong America, a 501(c)(3) organization. Lauren is an Associate with ReadyNation. Pretty exciting, right?

But prior to joining Council for a Strong America in 2020, Lauren taught high school math in Kansas City, Missouri, through Teach for America. She holds a Bachelor's in Political Science and Economics from Lake Forest College and a Master's degree in Secondary Education from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Welcome, everyone. I'm going to give it over to Marnetta to get us started.

Marnetta: I'm so excited. Very esteemed guests. I'm going to start with Lauren, and I'm going to do that because we have that Missouri connection. That's where I'm from. Glad to know I have a fellow Missourian with me. I keep hearing the phrase challenges with the workforce. What are people talking about? Share some of your knowledge with me, Ms. Lauren.

Lauren: Sure. I'm glad to know that we have that Missouri connection too. When we think about the challenges that the early childhood education workforce is facing, and it's increasingly being talked about in the news now, I think about the report that ReadyNation released earlier this month with a panel of business leaders in North Carolina. But the story is similar in states all over. That's a troubling story that that report tells.

Basically, the drain on the economy is caused by the lack of quality childcare, which was already sizable before COVID has gotten even larger. The reason why childcare sectors are facing this staffing crisis in combination with the pandemic forced a third of providers to temporarily close their classrooms with little to no notice to parents. Those disruptions, not only are they problematic for children, but they send parents, working parents, and other primary caregivers scrambling to find out what to do with their kids. It's a negative spiral for our economy.

The main point of that report and what I want to get across today is that this is not just a problem for childcare providers to solve, teachers to solve, even then working parents, or individual employers who are trying to get their working parents to work, it's all of our problem. It's going to take all of us working together to solve it. If I can, I'd love to explain a little bit more of how we got here and what we can do about it. I'm a former math teacher, like you said, so I'd love to share the stats.

I'm going to back up a little bit and just stress the magnitude of this problem. The economic data, like I said, even before the pandemic, is really shocking. Our 2019 ReadyNation report estimated that the lack of affordable quality childcare for infants and toddlers only costs the American economy $57 billion each year due to lost earnings, productivity, and revenue, so pretty shocking.

The reason I like to start there is because that study has been cited in well over 500 earned media pieces at this point including the White House, Time Magazine, and countless other local news outlets. We've really done a lot to advance the national discourse on this topic. But as I mentioned earlier, our new research is indicating that the problem is actually getting worse.

So this report, The Workforce Behind the Workforce that we just released in North Carolina, estimated that for their statewide losses. The cause of the lack of affordable quality childcare has grown from $2.4 billion per year to $2.9 billion per year.

When we think about this problem not just in North Carolina, but across the country, we know that over the course of the pandemic, many jobs are lost nationwide with childcare issues being one of the main reasons that people are exiting the workforce, especially women, and 167,000 jobs are lost in the childcare industry alone.

We've been in this pandemic a while now. Some businesses are starting to reopen. Some of the childcare providers that existed prior to the pandemic have permanently closed, and those that remain are not going to be able to survive financially if they can't get the workers they need. That would be even worse because that would reduce the availability of reliable child care even further.

That impacts employees' ability to show up to work and be productive across all industries, not just the childcare sector. That is what we talk about when we say the early childhood educators are the workforce behind the workforce.

Marnetta: You said a lot. I'm not a math person, but I understood all those numbers. That's a very big impact in our sector, even before the pandemic, which really brought to light some of the challenges that we were already faced with. It's not just about getting the bodies in, what are some of the other challenges that people were facing?

Lauren: Yes, I could get into that. Why haven't we fixed this problem already? One of the main underlying reasons is childcare provider wages. For those of you who don't know, early childhood teachers typically earn substantially less than kindergarten teachers. Childcare directors are really struggling to attract and retain staff due to those low wages. These are people making $10, $12 an hour. Some of these people are really highly educated, just like their public school counterparts.

In North Carolina, I was shocked to hear this stat. It's nearly 40% of early childhood educators that have to rely on public assistance themselves in order to support themselves and their families. The low compensation was actually the top reason cited by those North Carolina teachers who left the field. It is a huge issue because educators can leave to work for companies like Target and Amazon where they can earn a higher wage.

That low supply of qualified providers that we have now because people are exiting the sector leads to what we've called childcare deserts. That's where there are at least three children interested in that childcare slot, but there's only one of them. Because childcare is so labor-intensive, especially for infants and toddlers, I like to point out, that group is particularly labor-intensive, that low supply combined with the high demand has just caused prices to rise substantially. When care is available, it's often unaffordable.

Our report also cited that the annual cost of infant care in a center costs more than public college tuition in 31 states and DC. What that translates to in real life is parents are competing to add their name to waitlists for exorbitantly expensive care, or alternatively, those who can't afford it are forced to make tough decisions about cutting back hours to juggle childcare challenges or leaving the workforce entirely to become full-time caregivers for their children. As we've seen, the parent making that trade-off is usually the mother. So this crisis really does impact all of us, but we know it impacts women and low-income families the most.

Marnetta: Thank you so much for that. For people who want to read up more on this report, what is the name of the report from ReadyNation?

Lauren: You can find it on our website, which is It is called The Workforce Behind the Workforce in North Carolina. We typically do these reports for state specifics, but we hope to do this in more states as well and replicate it.

Marnetta: Lauren set us up so well to understand from a national context of the workforce development issue and a long way from a big solution, obviously. But I was curious, from Amanda and Shanda, if you are seeing anything. I saw heads nodding. So I'm thinking some of these things are resonating with you in your Head Start space or even in the school district space. I wondered if you would speak to that.

What challenges are you seeing that maybe are similar or maybe some others that you wanted to add to the conversation that you're definitely seeing show up in Utah in your space? Maybe we'll start with Shanda to share first and then we'll hear from Amanda.

Shanda: I agree with you, Lauren. We're seeing similar. First, to explain a little bit, our Head Start program is very fortunate because we are housed under the umbrella of a school district. Therefore, we are able to offer our early childhood educators a little better wages than you would find in the community. Because we're housed in a school district, we're able to offer a benefits package with retirement, insurance, and whatnot.

That is a draw to our programs. That is very helpful. Typically, we see really high retention rates in our program. We've had teachers stay for all the way through retirement. Last year, we had quite a few retire from our program. But this year, in particular, as Lauren was saying, we lost 40% of our staff, of our lead teachers in our Head Start classrooms. Amanda, how many classrooms do we have exactly? I'm drawing a blank in my head.

Amanda: We have 24 preschool classrooms and then 11 Early Head Start, I believe.

Shanda: Yeah. We lost a big chunk of those this year. Of course, our minds twirl like yours. Of course, a lot of them were because they retired last year, or a couple of them took early retirement and left a little bit early because of the pandemic and whatnot. We lost quite a few and we circle around to why that could be.

A lot of thoughts have gone through our heads and of course, wages is one of them. Even though we are competitive with other child cares, when you look at the school district, we have a particular challenge because our classrooms are housed inside of elementary schools so that we're Head Start classrooms, but the district gives us space inside of the elementary schools so that the Head Start children can attend their school that they will be going into or a very local school that's near their home.

What this does is it places our teachers in an elementary school environment, and they have this collaborative environment with a principal and other kindergarten and elementary school teachers. They get to know them and have this great family around them of their Head Start family, which is us that we go out and support and help, but then they have this elementary family as well.

In the state of Utah, there's a program that's an alternative pathway to licensure. If they have a bachelor's degree and they have a principal that accepts them into this alternative pathway to licensure, they can become a certified elementary teacher and get paid double. We have lost several of them to this program because they go and they get housed in the school district, and then they realize they can make double the wages by moving into a certified teaching position. So that's one challenge that we definitely face.

Another challenge that I would say is that the director of our program and I were talking the other day. We have the lead teachers in our classrooms, but we also have teacher assistants in the classrooms. Typically, in typical years, these are moms, women that come into our program, and they want a job that they can work while their children are at school. We're just a perfect fit for them, even though it's lower wages.

Because their children are at school, they can come in. We're on the same school district calendar. They have summers off, they’re home. They're able to get their children to school, then they're there at work while their children are in school. They're able to go home and be with their children when their children get out of school because we follow that school district calendar.

This year, we are having a hard time staffing those positions. One of the reasons that we've been toying with maybe of why this is happening is because of the government checks that are coming to families. For myself, I'm a mom of four children. Because I have four children, I'm getting a monthly stipend for my children.

There was a time in my life that I stayed home to be with my children. I did take a little part-time job—even though I have a master's degree—working in a school for just $10 an hour just because I wanted to be there for my children. These checks that are coming in from the government are more than I made doing that. If I was back in that position, I wouldn't have needed to go out and get that part-time job while my kids are at school because the supplemental money that I needed is coming in a different way.

Marnetta: I was thinking about all that you laid out for us. Even pre-COVID, it sounded like you had the advantage of being in that school district. So you have those attractors. It sounded like I heard lots of things. I heard the wages are higher than maybe in the community. I also heard support system because that's super important for people staying in the job where they're at. So they have the support, the collaboration, those pieces, their children, typically, maybe like on the same schedules and things.

I also heard that they had a perk of retirement, which is a good thing, but then it just so happened to be this timespan when so many were retiring. We always try to future plan, but I wonder and think about the challenge of that. Enter the pandemic is one thing too, but even pre-pandemic, what are some strategies that have been successful even if you take the pandemic outside of it for filling that pipeline and thinking about, you just had a large amount to retire at once, but it sounds like in the past, moms were part of that pipeline?

I think I heard you say there was like a pathway and alternative pathway for teachers. Are there any others? I was just curious to know because other people listening are like, what works? How do you fill that pipeline and make teaching the best profession anybody wants to go into? They also want to come to Utah. That’s what they're trying to do is come here. So what works or what would you want to do?

Shanda: Let me just clarify a little bit. I have a dual role. I work here and as mentioned in my bio, I teach some courses at some local universities as well. In these universities that are in Utah or near our regional area, there are two different programs that filter our teachers into our education system. One is the early elementary education program, and they have a certification in early childhood.

When they go to the university, they end up with a certification in teaching K-8, K-6, or K-3 if it's early childhood. It's not necessarily preschool or early childhood. They do take some courses, which was my course to get an introduction to that. But when they graduate, they get a certification. They take the Praxis and they have a certification to teach in the public school system.

That pays twice or, as Lauren was saying, maybe even more than twice what our pre-K teachers make. Now there's another route and that's the family services route, which is Family in Human Development at Utah State University or Child Development at the other university that I teach at. Those are your family services, which is usually where we get funneled our teachers for child care and Head Start. They don't get a certification in teaching public school. They end up with a bachelor's degree and work in the Human Services Department.

That's where we get most of our educators in our program, from those family services fields. We require an associate's degree, but our program emphasizes that we really want a bachelor’s, so most of our staff have bachelor's degrees in family services fields.

Amanda: Shanda, I just want to say, out of our teachers, I would say, out of 80% of our lead teachers hold a bachelor's degree. There are only a trickling of few that have associates in early childhood because we really have wanted to set that bar of the standard for us to give a high-quality education.

Shanda: Thanks, Amanda. What we're saying to them, the message that's coming across is our early childhood majors were resulting in their degree having a certification with them is worth twice as much as those who are getting the same amount of education, bachelor's degree, in the family services fields because their salary is twice as high. Even though we know there's a big debate nationwide too that elementary school teachers' wages are too low, you look at early childhood and it's much, much lower than that even.

I would say that our wonderful Head Starts, early childhood teachers, and infant-toddler teachers work just as hard. I've been in elementary fields as well. I've been in classrooms there and it's very, very similar work, just as hard work. The message that's coming across to them is that their wages are half and not as important. This alternative pathway to licensure that's in the state of Utah is the answer that the elementary schools have come up with for recruiting more educators.

If you even have a bachelor's degree, you didn't go to elementary through the early childhood channel, and you didn't get your certification, we will help you get a certification if you have a bachelor's degree. Come work for us for a year and we'll put you on this path. Within three years, you'll have your certification just as if you had graduated in early childhood. Our teachers who have bachelor's degrees are going into this environment that they're meeting up with principals who are willing to partner them in and then they're able to get their license within three years. That's the challenge that we have there.

Marnetta: My question would be, because that's a detriment to yourself as a program [...]. It's like, wait, let me give you all those tutelage and all these, and then bye, it was nice seeing you. What do you do to convince them to stay? How do we keep them? Yes, they have this option, but this is where they choose to be.

Shanda: Our director is working really, really hard on this. I had a conversation with her last week about it. Unfortunately, she couldn't join us today because we're in our federal review process this week for our Head Start program. But she really considers this a very, very serious thing and works really hard to make our Head Start family a family environment. Amanda, do you want to tell them just a little bit about the SHIP program that our director has really been highlighting this year and trying to help us with staff, health, and mental health?

Amanda: Yeah. I will do that, yes, but I also want to touch base with what Marnetta was saying. Yes, Utah does offer alternative licenses. But one thing I think that helps us retain staff is the fact that they have a co-teacher in the classroom there. I've been in the classroom like Shanda's in there. Lauren as well, you're in there with 30 kids.

You have to go to the restroom and you're like, okay, how can I time it to leave? What's so nice is we're giving them the opportunity to have somebody in their class with them, so it's two teachers in the classroom. Yes, one is the lead who is the main teacher, and then we have our co-teacher who steps up, does just as much, and does all the same things there. So that's always really great and a great benefit that we have that we offer our staff that I feel our teachers appreciate because then, they're sharing the workload and it does make it a little bit easier.

Just like Shanda was saying, within the last two years, we have been implementing our staff wellness. It's SHIP this year. Shanda. I can never remember what it's staff—

Shanda: Staff Health Improvement Program, I think.

Amanda: Yes. I'm so sorry, guys, I can never remember that. I'm even on the committee and I can't remember it. I apologize. We do these activities and we send out mindfulness things and reminders that are helping our teachers.

Right before the Thanksgiving break, we talked about how can we take time to just be in the moment of living in the moment, breathing, and self-care. We did a big staff training. It was actually a questionnaire that we had to go through and answer, it graded you, and it told you if you were great at self-care or if you really needed to improve it, which I myself had to improve it. But then they gave you strategies to help improve your self-care.

We filter that down as leadership into our teachers, train them on those same things as well, work on knowing when to say, you know what, this will be here tomorrow, it's okay. It's okay that this will be put off until tomorrow. Especially, with us being a federally funded program, when school first starts, we have 45 days, and we have a bunch of screeners and assessments. We have to get done within those 45 days to stay in compliance with our federal government and guidelines. But then we talk about now, take a breath, let's take time for ourselves.

Learning is fun. We don't want to burn you out. We want to make sure, and so we've implemented this year doing a gratitude journal, and our staff have been just writing one thing that was like, okay, here's my crazy thought and then this made me laugh today. We talked about it in our team in group meetings and in our education thing. We have leadership and education meetings that we often do.

With our team meetings, we go around and we say, okay, before we get down to the nitty-gritty of what's going on in our team, I want us to say, what are we thankful for today, what are we grateful for, or what made me smile today? Just really focus on that positivity as a group because we all know we've been in the trenches of those classrooms. Some days, it's the little tiny things that a student just telling you not to be a hater, love is magical and you're like, you know what, you're right, it is.

Just really bringing the morale up that way and working on just improving our overall health so that way, we're not getting teachers to burnout or like Shanda said, you know what, I'm getting this check and I'm making more, so maybe I'll just hightail it out of there and just stay home for a while.

Shanda: Thank you, Amanda. Another thing that our director mentioned—and she really puts a lot of effort into this mental health program, which we really, really appreciate. We try hard to be flexible as much as we can. We know that they need to be there when the children are there. We try to offer them time off if they are sick.

Luckily, in the school district, we do have the option to have the sick leave with us. I know a lot of childcare don't have that option, but that is a draw and very helpful for where we are in our program. That does help people to stay and to be drawn to our program, those health and wellness benefits. Another thing that we do in Head Start is that we have a great support system with leadership, coaching, and supervisors.

Each of our teachers has a supervisor, which is Amanda. Amanda is in that role, where they have a supervisor that goes into their classroom regularly. As I mentioned before, they're all out in these elementary schools. We have this challenge of helping them to feel part of their elementary team, but also helping them to feel part of our Head Start family.

Amanda goes out and visits her teachers, answers questions for them, and helps them to feel trained that they can do their job and have the materials and the resources that they need. Then on my end, I am the lead coach in our program. We have a team of coaches and we assign each of our staff members a coach. We use CLASS Teachstone and we go out.

We do the class assessments on our teachers to look at quality teaching practices in our classroom in the beginning of the year, middle of the year, and at the end of the year. We use that data to help identify quality teaching practices that can happen in the classroom that can be improved upon. We use Teachstone resources to help coach one-on-one individually, our teachers.

I instruct the coaches to go out. We assess where the teachers are and then we really identify specific teaching practices that will help them improve their quality teaching practices. They go out and spend time with them each week in their classrooms. Those that are brand new teachers get more time with their coach, so they get that more intensive coaching with their coach.

We're able to really help them to answer questions, we talk to them, we help them identify those quality teaching practices and really improve on their teaching skills. I think that support system that they feel from us, that coaching, and feeling like they are a professional getting not only group trained from the whole program, but individually, getting that personalized individual attention from a coach is really helpful as well to help them get that professional development that they need to feel competent in their field and feel supported in their role.

Marnetta: Thank you so much.

Amanda: I would have to agree with that. Like Shanda was saying, the supervisors, it's not just me. I can't be in 24 classrooms, although I would like to because I like control, but I cannot do it myself. Shanda, I have a team with me. We go in and we just piggyback on everything that Shanda does. They do the same thing and we're just guiding, supporting, training, and just making them feel like they're getting the best in their workforce services.

Marnetta: Thank you so much. As we've had this discussion, I think I want to bring it back to Lauren. I want to ask, what kind of solutions can you think of that can fix these problems that we discussed today?

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. I think Shanda and Amanda were really on point when they started the conversation with federal funding conversation. Because we do have to keep in mind that the majority of funding for these early care and learning programs does come from federal dollars.

So when it comes to thinking about how states can best spend those dollars, and I might use North Carolina here as an example, but other states have similar programs, there are two main buckets that I think investments are worthwhile that ReadyNation supports. They're both investments in the child care workforce.

The first one is programs that provide salary assistance to support child care workers. The second is programs that provide education scholarships to early care educators. Many states have programs like they were just describing, where educators who work full time with infants and toddlers can get special scholarships. We need to expand those programs and adequately fund them.

As state legislators begin to go on their budgets for this upcoming session, we're seeing that even in states where we are seeing promising increases to those child care assistance programs to help parents be able to afford the high cost of care, we're still not seeing a boost for child care worker compensation. Without that, the main point of our report is that it's just not enough. Without enough qualified teachers, there's going to be an inadequate supply of child care. So any of those other solutions like subsidies and assistance programs are not going to be effective.

I would urge states to provide education, professional development, and compensation to child care workers as they've been historically underfunded. Our report specifically cites the budget short calls and the teacher education and compensation helps or teach program out of North Carolina or the Early Childhood Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for two- and four-year degree programs in early childhood education, and also the child care wages projects and infant-toddler rewards programs.

All of those reward increases in education with additional salary. These and other similar programs are what is needed to increase retention. I'm happy to talk more about those additional strategies if we had more time. But really, we need to make sure that educators are being compensated fairly in order to provide a high-quality learning experience for all the children and parents who need it.

Remember, the high-quality aspect of it really does matter. The research shows that so much of a child's brain development is formed in those first five years. So it's going to have a lifelong impact. What these teachers are doing with students every day is important, and we need to make sure that the people who are doing it are well-trained and adequately compensated.

I think it's a bummer that we have this troubling pattern and we know the solution, but we haven't done it yet. I think that these conversations and continuing to raise these issues is the most important thing we can do. So that's why ReadyNation engages business leaders on the topic too because everybody needs to be invested in this if we want to solve this crisis.

Darlene: Thank you so much for that. Thank you, all of you. We deeply appreciate all of you taking the time just to have this important discussion with us today, and bringing your expertise and even voices from the field, on the ground, and across the nation. This is a complex topic. We are going to work together at it.

Nobody's giving up. I hear the passion. I hear the commitment. A lot of work has obviously been done, but there's still a lot of work that needs to still be done. We all can have a part in doing it together, regardless of our role in education policy or research. So thank you again for joining us.

We'll post the transcription and related resources on our site,\impacting. For all of our podcast listeners, we will see you next episode in January—oh my goodness, next year—where we'll dig into funding. That's always a fun topic. We will dig into funding and the impact that it's having on early education. Until then, I want you just to enjoy the holidays, and remember that behind great leading and teaching are powerful interactions. So let's build that culture together.