Dr. Joe May
Note: This editorial was published in the Dallas Morning News (article may be behind a paywall).
By Joe May and Brendan McGuire
Feb. 19, 2020
A dearth of quality child care and early learning programs is posing a significant structural barrier to the success of our local economy. In Dallas County, 60% of nonworking parents cite the lack of accessible child care as one of their top five reasons for not participating in the workforce and fewer than 50% of Dallas children are ready for kindergarten when they enroll.
Central to this tension is a lack of specialized early childhood educators in both child care and public pre-K classrooms. Effective early childhood professionals need a strong understanding of child development and teaching strategies for young learners, yet the majority of providers have little postsecondary education and most public pre-K teachers have no specialized training. Building the North Texas pipeline of qualified early education professionals is not a silver bullet for our region’s most persistent problems in early learning, but it is a crucial piece of the puzzle and a significant advancement.
That is why we are optimistic about the Dallas County Community College District’s plan to transform our region’s approach to developing early childhood educators.
DCCCD has developed, and received approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer, a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Teaching. That makes it the first community college in the state to offer such a degree. The degree program, part of the district’s new School of Education, is acutely focused on producing a new stream of qualified early childhood educators for the region. By offering an affordable four-year degree in early childhood education, the district aims to make higher education accessible to those who have traditionally been nonconsumers of postsecondary education.
The district’s efforts to revitalize our early education workforce don’t end there. It is important to recognize that the lack of qualified teachers in child care settings is due largely to extremely low compensation for non-credentialed teachers, who often make less than $10 an hour. As a result, turnover among even experienced child care teachers is high.
This is precisely why the Dallas County Community College District is targeting current early childhood educators in Dallas County through a collaborative effort with the PNC Foundation, a champion for early childhood education through its bilingual initiative, PNC Grow Up Great, which helps prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to learn. The project will support an initial cohort of 20 birth-to-age-3 child care teachers working in three of Dallas’ lowest-income communities as part-time students at DCCCD. The effort was first announced last week at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s state of early education luncheon.
Over three semesters, this cohort will earn 18 credit hours in early childhood education, tuition-free. In addition, they will get transportation assistance, paid wages for time spent in class, and reimbursements for the participants’ own child care — eliminating structural barriers to staying in the program.
Ultimately, the program will improve individual economic mobility for the cohort through higher earnings and better job prospects associated with additional education. Their students will reap the benefits of a teacher specifically trained in child development.
Together, with our partners at Early Matters Dallas, the Dallas Regional Chamber, and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, these efforts promise to fill three vital workforce needs for the Dallas region: higher quality preparation for our youngest learners; greater access to quality early learning programs for working parents; and an attainable pathway to higher education and improved compensation for underpaid early educators. In doing so, the Dallas region is poised to distinguish itself as a model in solving for one of our state’s most critical education and workforce needs.
Joe May is chancellor of Dallas County Community College District.
Brendan McGuire is regional president and head of corporate banking for PNC.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.