I taught at a Montessori preschool for 15 years. I loved my job. I guided some of Washington’s youngest learners during a crucial time in their development. Through research-based teaching strategies, my colleagues and I helped them develop the cognitive and social skills they would need to succeed. 

But I was never paid a living wage, and I didn’t have benefits like paid time off or adequate health coverage. Despite more than a decade of experience in my role, I worried about how I would put food on the table. 

Unfortunately, my experiences are typical for child care workers in Washington. On average in 2019, our state’s child care workers — who are disproportionately women of color like me — were paid just $14.57/hour and early learning workers just $15.96/hour. Nationwide, more than half of child care workers must rely on public assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

It’s no surprise many must leave the sector. After 15 years, that’s what happened to me. In June 2020, my husband and I had our first child. Ironically, we quickly realized we couldn’t afford the high cost of child care. My employer offered a discount for teachers, but it was still much more than we could afford. Other options weren’t affordable either. Plus, COVID-19 had forced many programs to close, often permanently. 

I had to leave my job to care for my son. It made more sense for my husband to stay in the workforce, because as a middle school teacher, he was paid significantly more than me — even though I had taught for nearly a decade longer than him.

It’s not lost on me that being forced out of my job contributed to the enormous staffing shortages facing child care programs today. And when programs can’t hire enough staff, they must limit enrollment, making it harder to find care and forcing many parents — usually moms — out of jobs and into poverty. It’s a horrible domino effect that damages our economy. 


Our child care system was in crisis long before COVID. We must address this issue, and ensuring providers are paid living wages is a crucial and often overlooked part of the solution. We cannot build a functioning child care system or a strong economy if those caring for our youngest kids can’t support their own families. 

At its core, this is a racial equity issue. We undervalue work performed by women of color, which contributes to the wage gap. At the same time, Black and brown children are much less likely to have access to quality early learning experiences. 

Fortunately, this is a historic moment for child care in Washington. Last year, lawmakers passed the Fair Start for Kids Act with bipartisan support. It’s the largest investment in child care in Washington’s history. It expands eligibility for state child care assistance, increases preschool slots, and eliminates or lowers copays for many families. It also invests in provider training and compensation. 

Now our elected leaders must build on this momentum and pass legislation that guarantees family-sustaining wages for care workers. After all, Washington’s families and economy cannot reap the full benefits of Fair Start for Kids if programs cannot hire enough staff. 

To help make that a reality, I joined Washington’s Compensation Design Working Group. We are combining research with our lived experiences as care workers to develop a policy proposal for lawmakers to consider next session. 

Above all, we want to change the narrative around child care workers in Washington. One of the hardest things about teaching preschool was the lack of respect. Too often we dismiss this work as “just babysitting.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Child care providers are professionals who are shaping the next generation. Recognizing the value of that work is the foundation on which we must make reforms.