Brain research says teaching toddlers is as complex as teaching school-age kids, but the pay and training haven’t kept pace with the science.

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Child-care workers in Washington state help build the brains of the state’s youngest citizens, but they make only slightly more a year than parking-lot attendants, according to a new federal report.

The annual median wage for child-care workers — $23,520 — also was about $3,000 less than what manicurists-pedicurists earn.

Wages are better for teachers who work for federally funded Head Start preschools ($30,241), but that’s still far below the median salary for kindergarten teachers — $55,020.

The pay gaps reflect the outdated notion that child care is just baby-sitting — despite decades of brain research showing that children begin learning from the moment they’re born and that the first five years set the stage for success in school and life.

That means teaching toddlers is as complex and important as teaching elementary-age kids and requires the same expertise. In a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, those groups recommended a bachelor’s degree at least, plus much more training.

But college graduates are unlikely to be drawn to a job that pays so little that workers can receive what used to be called food stamps.

Child-care teachers’ median wage of $23,500 in Washington state is low enough to qualify a family of three for help buying food. That’s true in every state, according to the new report from the U.S. departments of Education, and Health and Human Services.

The report cites data from a 2013 national survey that pegged the national median salary for child-care teachers — who are mostly women — at $20,320.

Last year, the Washington Department of Early Learning reported that owners of home-based family child-care businesses, which typically serve infants and toddlers, made more than that.

That report found that the median annual pay for such businesses was $37,000 if it was the family’s sole source of income. But just 10 percent of home-based providers have a bachelor’s degree and 43 percent have only a high-school diploma or GED.