Head Start workforce crisis leads to children dropped and classrooms closed

Submitted by Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP.

The Washington State Association of Head Start and ECEAP (WSA) is sounding the alarm that unless Congress and the White House act immediately Head Start programs will be forced to further reduce the number of children served this fall due to the workforce crisis. Over the past two and half years, the double gut-punch of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with embarrassingly low wages received by teachers and staff has led to dramatically fewer children being served in Head Start programs. In 2019 immediately before the COVID pandemic, 17,242 children were enrolled in Head Start, but by 2021 only 12,255 were enrolled. (2022 data is still pending, but expected to be even lower)[i][i].

Head Start/Early Head Start programs serve the children farthest from opportunity, children who benefit from high-quality classroom experiences and family support to set them on a pathway to school and life success. Studies have shown impressive long-term effects of Head Start, and decades of K-12 data have proven that when children start behind, it is difficult for them to catch up. Many of these 5000 children will start school without the foundational skills they need.

Key numbers

Between 2019 and 2021, we see a 29% reduction in children served per year

Average wage for a Lead Head Start teacher with a BA is $38,229

Average wage for an Assistant Head Start teacher (CDA) is $29,188

Average wage for a Kindergarten teacher is $65,077

In a survey of WA Head Start programs Feb. 1, Directors estimated that 10.9% of HS/EHS classrooms had yet to open due to lack of staff.

Senate Reconciliation Package Offers Hope

Currently, Congress and the White House are in the midst of another round of negotiations over a slimmed-down version of the Build Back Better Act through the Senate reconciliation process. The original legislation contained new investments to make child care more affordable as well as dedicated dollars to address the Head Start workforce crisis. Head Start was slated to receive $2.5 billion per year over 6 years to ensure that teachers and staff could receive fair and competitive wages.

But right now it’s being reported in the media that despite the efforts of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and other members of our congressional delegation here in Washington and champions around the country several Senators are standing in the way of this critical need. By blocking new funding for the Head Start workforce they will essentially be casting a vote to significantly further reduce the number of children served by Head Start thereby denying thousands of children the opportunity to be ready for kindergarten.

Rekah Strong, Executive Director of the Educational Opportunities for Children and Families in Vancouver, WA and President of WSA said the following:

“It’s not that we don’t want to enroll more families, or that families are not interested in sending their children to Head Start. We do, and they do! We have children on our waiting list right now. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the staff to offer services to these children. Congress must act now to help us solve the Head Start workforce crisis. I fear that without new dedicated funding Head Start programs across Washington including my own program in 3 different counties, may have to make the difficult choice of serving fewer children in the fall. This is a truly terrible outcome for the more than 4,000 children 0 to 5 in our communities that qualify for services offered by Head Start, but we are not able to enroll them due to our inability to hire/retain teachers and staff and expand our programs.”