Press Release

New report estimates the true cost of early child care and education

Identifying a values-based budget for children, parents, and teachers in California

A new report released jointly by the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates the true cost of a high-quality early care and education (ECE) system which includes the resources necessary to address severely inadequate wages paid to early educators in California.

California has attracted attention recently for its increased support for ECE, but the investment necessary to adequately compensate early educators has yet to be made. Assembly Bill 123, the Preschool for All Act, received bipartisan support but was amended to remove a provision to raise compensation of early educators. A key challenge to allocating funds is a lack of understanding about the true cost of services, of which support for early educators is the largest expense.

Currently, typical early educators in California are paid $13 per hour. They are twice as likely as other California workers and six times more likely than K–12 teachers to live in poverty. The report provides the estimated cost of an early care and education system in which educators, whether they work with infants, toddlers, preschool-age children, earn wages on a par with elementary school teachers.

“It’s well-documented that the workforce heavily subsidizes the cost of early care and education services with their low wages,” said Whitebook. “Let’s get over sticker shock and be realistic about the cost when educators are justly paid.”

The report’s authors, EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould, CSCCE Co-directors Marcy Whitebook and Lea J.E. Austin, and EPI Data Analyst Zane Mokhiber, propose a budget with an annual cost of $29.7 to $75.4 billion, or $30,000 to $37,000 per child. Additionally, because of the increased demand anticipated when such a system is in place, the authors estimate an additional one-time investment for recruiting and training of teachers of $3.0 to $9.7 billion. The authors estimate that the total number of teachers required in California’s reformed ECE system would range from 323,000 to 826,000.

“Policymakers and other stakeholders have the opportunity to ensure that teaching young children, performed mostly by women of color, is valued and respected. Unfortunately, low pay and poor working conditions reduces the quality of care that children receive,” said Gould. “Young children, families, and workers all deserve an early child care and education system that works for them.”

The authors argue that this cost model will ensure California has a skilled and stable ECE workforce that can deliver high-quality services, meet growing demand, and relieve the tremendous financial burden from families.

View the report Breaking the silence on early child care and education costs

The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment conducts research and policy analysis focused on achieving comprehensive public investments that enable the early childhood workforce to deliver high-quality care and education for all children. CSCCE is a project of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at UC Berkeley. IRLE connects world-class research with policy to improve workers’ lives, communities, and society.