Across Southwest Colorado, early childhood education centers are facing high staff turnover rates and many have waiting lists because there is not enough care available for families.
A survey of 15 centers across the five-county region found high turnover rates are driven by low wages and burnout, said Corinne Flieger, the family and program service coordinator with the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County.
More than half of the centers surveyed had turnover rates higher than 25 percent in the last year, the survey found. Lead teachers are paid between $9.31 and $17 an hour.
These people are guiding play and caring for children while 90 percent of their brains are being developed, Flieger said.
“It seems like a very important job to me, and that isn’t reflected in the numbers,” she said.
A statewide survey released this month found in rural counties that the average hourly pay is $14 per hour, according to the report by Qualistar, an early childhood advocacy and education group. The wage needed to be self-sufficient in La Plata County is about $21.50, Qualistar said.
An increase in wages might be tough for the market to support. Care is already unaffordable for many parents, costing on average $31 to $38 per day depending on the age of the child. But leaving the workforce to care for a child is often not an option because of the high cost of living, said Tamara Volz , director of the Early Childhood Council.
Persistent low wages make recruiting new people into the field tough. Students graduating with degrees in education are more likely to seek jobs in the public school systems because they can make more there, she said.
“We can recruit them, but it has to be attractive to them,” she said.
Employer-provided child care could be one way to expand care to more families. All but one of the education centers in the regional survey had a waiting list.
But it’s not attractive to business, Volz said.
“They don’t want to get into the child care business because you don’t make money,” she said.
A state-run system for early child care could be another solution to broaden its availability for families, Volz said.
In the short term to help ease the shortage of care, the council is going to reimburse people for the cost of getting a license to provide care in their homes, she said.
“The goal is to attract people who have thought about this or who are already caring for children,” Flieger said.
Expanding the access to training will improve the quality and the safety of the programs, Volz said.
The state is providing $250,000 for these reimbursements across Colorado.