As Black History Month comes to a close, the fight for racial justice continues. We reflect on the resilience of Black leaders who face and stand against inequities (past and present) while paving the way for a brighter, more promising future. Leaders like the remarkable women we’ve honored throughout the month — who in many ways carry the paton that’s been passed from generation to generation.
Today we spotlight All Our Kin President Erica Phillips. In a recent opinion article, Erica shares how “we can truly honor Black families and early educators by allocating more funding for early care education at the national and state level, showing them that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed.”
Check out Erica’s op-ed below.
Funding Child Care is an Opportunity to Honor Black Families and Early Educators
The importance of Black people to early care and education cannot be overstated. Black women have been a backbone for America, caring for generations of children, and groundbreaking early education studies, like the Carolina Abecedarian Project & High Scope Perry Preschool Project, relied overwhelmingly on Black teachers and children. However, the lack of investment in child care at the national and local level is a great injustice for Black educators, children, and families.
Earlier this month, I listened to child care providers and advocates – many of them Black – express despair, desperation, and disencouragement at the way early care and education has been overlooked by public officials. Nichelle Wadell, owner of Watch Me Grow Daycare in Stamford, Connecticut, spoke about how she planned to expand her home-based family child care program but housing discrimination and burdensome, expensive hoops have kept her from offering high quality child care to the many families on her waiting list.
One neighbor opposed Wadell’s plan to expand her licensed child care program in her home, forcing her to spend thousands of dollars on fees and legal representation. The zoning board – which didn’t include any child care experts – denied her case twice before finally approving her plans to care for up to six additional children, only after advocates and other child care owners testified in her favor.
When asked about the source of her resilience, Wadell spoke about her grandmother, who worked as a sharecropper in St. Maartens, Louisiana. Her grandmother raised her children and grandchildren to defiantly oppose discrimination in all aspects of their lives. Waddell evoked her grandmother’s perserverance as she faced discrimination of her own, sharing, “After I was denied the right to expand my child care program the first year, I knew I'm going to apply every year until they got tired of opposing me. It's our home, and no one is going to tell me I can’t do this for my community.”
Nationally and locally in the wake of the pandemic, elected officials have praised child care providers for their efforts to stay open and keep the economy going by allowing families to go back to work. Yet these same officials don’t seem to be supporting providers when given the chance, and child care providers are left waiting for substantive action to make child care a priority. Georgia Goldburn, Executive Director of Hope for New Haven, shared, “I am upset because we stayed open throughout the pandemic, putting our health and the health of our families at risk. Yet now we have to beg for funding so that we can run our programs and so our staff can receive a living wage.”
Goldburn’s concerns are confirmed in the lack of support for child care at both the federal and state level. President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better package featuring preschool and child care priorities has stalled in Congress. In Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont has a current fiscal year budget surplus of $900 million that does not include additional funding for child care. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal for child care investment falls far short of meeting the needs of families across the state.
This lack of investment in child care disproportionately hurts Black educators, children, and families, as early education and childcare represents the most racially diverse and lowest-paid sector of the teaching workforce. Almost 95 percent of childcare providers are women, and almost 15 percent are Black, according to US Labor Department data. In this sector, the median salary is $569 per week, which adds up to less than $30,000 per year, and educators who care for children in their homes work 60-plus hours per week and often make far below minimum wage, averaging just $6.10 per hour in Connecticut.
Even within these abysmally low salaries, there are still inequities in wages and roles that further hurt Black educators. Black early educators are typically paid 78 cents less per hour than their white peers and are 50 percent more likely to live in poverty than their white peers.
Black educators aren’t the only ones that are struggling; Black families and children are also negatively affected by the lack of investment in child care. On average, Black families with two young children would have to spend 56 percent of their income on child care, which is a larger share of total family income than that of any other group and far exceeds the federal affordability benchmark of 7 percent of a family's income. On top of that, over 13 percent of Black parents with childcare problems are likely to quit or change jobs, which is almost twice the rate for white families.
an truly honor Black families and early educators by allocating more funding for early care education at the national and state level, showing them that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. Today, Black early educators like Waddell and Goldburn have sacrificed their health and their time in order to help prop up this country’s economic recovery, and yet they still face discrimination and inequalities on a daily basis. These educators remind us that in America, working, caring, educating, and learning while Black is exceptional, and it’s time to give them the respect they deserve.