Skip Navigation

New BPC Report Outlines State Steps to a Competent, Stable Early Care and Education Workforce

Resource March 19, 2024

When it comes to improving access to high-quality early care and education (ECE), strengthening the workforce must be a top priority. Teachers are instrumental to program quality— we know that young children learn best when engaging in positive interactions and forming secure relationships with their caregivers. These educators must have the specialized knowledge and skills to provide quality services, as well as the necessary support to do so. 

But as long as child care programs continue to have trouble recruiting and retaining strong teachers, program quality will be threatened. Low wages are a primary obstacle to strengthening the workforce, but true transformation will require more than improving compensation. A host of policy changes are needed to solve this complicated problem. In a new report, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) details a comprehensive 10-step approach for states to develop a competent and stable workforce for center-based care. 

Top-Down, Bottom-Up: Building a State Child Care Center Workforce calls on state administrators to take the lead in defining the workforce. States have the ability to set requirements for the field and to build the infrastructure needed to support it. BPC recommends a “top-down, bottom-up” approach, which means looking beyond just the role of the lead teacher. States should invest in leadership, both management and coaches, because they directly impact program quality. They should also develop teachers and paraprofessionals with a combination of competency-based training and higher education. BPC points to Head Start and Military Child Care as examples of strong programs that have been able to scale professional development. 

Here is an overview of BPC’s 10-step approach for state administrators to take toward developing a competent, stable workforce:

Define the Child Care Workforce 

  1. Develop workforce definitions, including for directors, teachers, and support staff. 
  2. Develop workforce competencies for all defined roles.
  3. Collect, analyze, and utilize detailed workforce data from child care subsidies, program licensing, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS), workforce registries, and more. 

Ensure Competency and Quality

  1. Determine competency-based education and training requirements for each role and career pathways, and the resources needed for new requirements.
  2. Utilize a monitoring system to ensure that the workforce meets competency requirements. 

Determine the Cost of the System

  1. Analyze costs, using baseline program operating costs to inform the total cost of the system.
  2. Analyze workforce costs, including education and training, compensation scales, and workplace benefits. 
  3. Conduct system-level cost modeling to determine the total cost of a child care system that addresses gaps and meets short- and long-term goals.

Identify Financing

  1. Once the workforce is defined and total costs are determined (steps 1–8), identify financing mechanisms. 
  2. Determine funding for compensation, including incremental goals for ensuring a competent and stable workforce.

BPC hosted an event to coincide with the release of the report. The esteemed panelists discussed a range of workforce-related topics, including the challenges of navigating conflicting regulations, the professionalization of the field, and educator well-being. Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, Co-President of Neighborhood Villages, shared innovative approaches they are using in the Boston area, including an apprenticeship program for lead teachers interested in administrative roles. Walter Gilliam, Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, dug into the challenges educators face and why support must go beyond compensation. And as the field works to solve these complicated issues, Marica Cox Mitchell, Vice President of Early Childhood at the Bainum Family Foundation, talked about the importance of power sharing. Instead of recreating the wheel, she encouraged state administrators to draw on the expertise of the profession and leverage systems already in place. The national Child Development Associate (CDA) competency standards are a good example of this, and “a gift to the field,” as Calvin Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Professional Recognition explained.    

Experts across the ECE field have been working for years to support and strengthen the workforce. While much headway has been made, true changes will require a comprehensive approach and public investment beyond what currently exists. Significant and stable funding is essential to building the workforce that young children deserve.


Stay Updated

Receive monthly updates on the latest news, policy, and actions to advance federal investment in children and their families.