For many child-care providers, COVID-19 has led to large enrollment drops, heightened costs, and staffing challenges. For some, it has meant closure.

In a recent statement, President Joe Biden called out the “acute, immediate child care crisis in America.” His American Rescue Plan includes $25 billion earmarked as an emergency stabilization fund for child-care providers. Emergency stabilization funds to mitigate the pandemic’s immediate damage are an important first step. But returning to a pre-coronavirus baseline would not be enough to create a stable child-care sector that adequately supports kids and families.

Prior to the pandemic, there was growing recognition that child-care teachers—many of whom are women of color—face wages and working conditions that undermine the provision of reliable care and education. Recent national data suggest that child-care workers make, on average, about $10 an hour, and that about half are in families receiving means-tested public support (e.g., EITC, SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid/CHIP). It is impossible to create stable, high-quality systems for families when educators are facing such pronounced financial challenges. These conditions contribute to high levels of stress and depression among early educators and to high rates of teacher turnover, which have negative implications for young children who benefit from stable, engaging relationships with caregivers.

Emergency funding to ensure that centers can keep their doors open and deal with current staffing challenges is an important first step, but meaningfully stabilizing ECE will take larger, long-term public investments. There are many innovative strategies that states and communities are trying to professionalize and stabilize the early childhood workforce, but truly addressing this issue will require substantial and long-term public investments explicitly tied to increasing wages and benefits for the ECE educators who are the foundation of this system.

Read the full article about stabilizing early childhood education by Daphna Bassok, Anna Markowitz, and Laura Bellows at Brookings.