New BPC Report: A Look into Child Care Workforce Licensing Requirements – First Five Years Fund

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Every day, early childhood educators play a crucial role in nurturing and shaping the minds of our youngest learners. Yet, the qualifications required for this essential workforce vary drastically across states. A recent scan of training and education requirements in all 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) sheds light on the reality of child care workforce licensing across the United States. Working with young children is challenging and critical work that requires specific knowledge, skills, and abilities. BPC’s Child Care Workforce Licensing Database found that many states require little to no training for child care staff working in a licensed child care center.

Qualifications for educators working in licensed child care centers range from minimal to comprehensive, depending on the state. Some states, like Mississippi and Illinois, have requirements mandating education, experience, and specialized training. In Mississippi, child care teachers must have a high school diploma, a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, and three years of experience caring for children. In Illinois, teachers must have a high school diploma, 60 semester hours from an accredited college with six hours related directly to child care, one year of experience working with young children, and the completion of an approved credential program.

Yet, other states have far fewer or even no requirements to enter the classroom. Nine states have no requirements for teachers, while 17 states have no requirements for teacher assistants. The minimum age requirement for a teacher is just 14 in North Dakota and teacher assistants can be as young as 14 years old in North Dakota and South Dakota. In many cases, a high school diploma serves as the only prerequisite for these vital roles. However, it is important to note that these licensing requirements are the minimum standards and centers may employ staff with increased education, experience, and training. Child care centers that participate in a state’s child care subsidy program or quality rating and improvement system typically have additional requirements. To learn about licensing in your state access BPC’s Child Care Workforce Licensing Database here

BPC’s previously conducted parent surveys underscore that trust is paramount for parents when selecting child care arrangements. And building a child care system that parents can trust necessitates a quality, stable workforce. Early childhood educators must be well-versed in health and safety protocols, and there are substantial benefits when staff are equipped with specialized training and a strong understanding of child development. However, increasing licensing requirements alone will not suffice. Without adequate resources and support, these increased requirements could burden an already overworked and underpaid workforce. With dismally low wages (on average just $14.22 per hour) and a lack of basic benefits, early educators continue to leave the field for better-paying and potentially less demanding jobs. 

To create incremental and sustainable change, BPC notes that states must explore policies that offer accessible career advancement pathways, improve compensation, and reduce burnout. BPC highlights early childhood registered apprenticeships as a strategy to encourage educators to enter and remain in the field while meeting heightened licensing requirements. By updating licensing requirements, defining the workforce, and implementing strategies for professional development and support, states can cultivate a field that attracts and retains skilled professionals.

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