Mandy Fearday, left, and Melody Farabee, attend to children at the Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center day care at the Messiah Lutheran Church. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

This week, the Springfield Daily Citizen and KY3 News are spotlighting the region’s child care crisis. It is a multifaceted problem, and some local experts admit they don’t know where to start to solve it. That’s because every angle to the issue presents challenges. 

The Daily Citizen is addressing one challenge at a time in what we’re calling the solutions series, in which we present the problem, some potential solutions and what might stand in the way of success.

The problem: Child care workers are poorly paid, causing many to leave the industry. This creates gaps in care and unfilled space in child care centers across the Springfield area.

A solution: Using the TEACH program to help provide pay raises, retention bonuses or educational growth support.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 900 people in the Springfield area held child care jobs as of May 2021. The mean wage for one of those workers was $24,010 per year, or $11.54 an hour. And child care workers at the top of their field did not earn much more. Those in the 90th percentile of pay for a child care position in Springfield make $27,940 per year, according to BLS statistics.

A program exists, however, that could help individuals working in this field (and also help their employers). It’s called TEACH Early Childhood Scholarship, and it’s a project of Child Care Aware of Missouri. The program can help address the problem of low wages in a few different ways:

  • Help child care staff work while earning an educational degree at the same time, thereby increasing their prospects for higher pay later.
  • Help pay for that degree.
  • Secure bonuses and pay raises for staff.

TEACH stands for Teacher Education and Compensation Helps, and it is part of a national effort to help early childhood educators get debt-free college degrees and also develop job stability through salary bonuses tied to training and retention. 

In Missouri, that plays out in four ways after an employee enters into a contract with a sponsor/employer and the TEACH program: 

  • Child Development Associate (CDA) Scholarships — A large percentage of tuition and textbook costs are covered for child care workers who meet a number of qualifications, including working at least three consecutive months for at least 25 hours a week at a Missouri-licensed child care center that is registered to accept subsidies, while making less than $20 an hour as an educator or $25 an hour as a director or owner. 
  • Bachelor Degree Scholarship — Nine to 15 credit hours over three semesters are covered for those who enter into TEACH contracts. This model covers early childhood or early childhood special education and general education courses taken at a Missouri 4-year college listed in the College Directory.
  • Compensation — Workers receive a $450 bonus from TEACH for every contract they complete, and some scholarship models offer $200 bonus matches or 2 percent raises from the sponsoring employer. 
  • Commitment — Workers who sign up for TEACH incentives agree to work for their sponsoring employer for six to 12 months after they complete their education and obtain their Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate. 

According to Dana Carroll, vice president of Early Childhood and Family Development at Community Partnership of the Ozarks, once a sponsoring employer’s entire staff has been credentialed, they can apply for accreditation. Day cares that are accredited receive a 25 percent additional bump to the state subsidy they get for qualifying children.  

“The bump isn’t new, but using the TEACH scholarship to get the CDA is fairly new,” Carroll said in an email. “I have an arrangement to incentivize any local providers who complete the CDA with Every Child Promise funding. The CDA is definitely the best beginner training for professional development for early childhood providers. I have several examples of providers that used CDA as their launching point to B.S. in child development or (early childhood) education.”

Leota Ledford, director at Mighty Marvels, said she’s trying to get all of her staff to take advantage of the TEACH Scholarship and earn their CDA as a way to eventually be able to pay them more.

“I actually used the TEACH Scholarship for my second degree,” Ledford said. “They help pay for school, books. We participate with it and give the teacher two hours paid time off each week to study. It’s a really cool program.

“And if I can get the whole team with their CDAs,” she added, “that actually increases our subsidy pay, which we can then pass that down to our teachers.”

A barrier: If those financial bonuses won’t even bump a top-tier child care employee in Springfield above a $30,000 a year salary, is that enough to keep people in the industry? 

This series is published in coordination with KY3 News. Watch the evening newscasts all this week on the Ozarks CW and KY3 News, or go to their website for related coverage.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson