The strained labor market is putting pressure on preschools to find and retain quality talent. This is especially true in Sarasota County, where there are hundreds of open positions for childcare professionals. The burden now falls on parents, as they lose income to stay home to care for their children.
A new partnership between Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County (ELC) seeks to address the problem by bolstering recruitment and retention efforts in early learning.
Blending philanthropic and government funds, local efforts will focus on three primary objectives:
- Provide retention bonuses to current teachers.
- Develop a community-wide marketing campaign to increase the sector’s visibility and enhance workforce outreach efforts to recruit more early learning professionals.
- Bolster career navigation by recruiting and assisting job candidates and new hires through entry-level training and career services.
Last month, $475,000 in retention bonuses were distributed to 535 early education professionals in Sarasota County, intended to keep experienced teachers in the classroom. Checks up to $1,500 were hand-delivered to teachers and directors who were eligible for bonuses based on their longevity in the field and a commitment to high-quality education. Teachers at childcare centers with an active School Readiness contract and participating in the local “Look for the Stars” quality rating system were eligible.
“By fixing the system of early learning in our community, we can create a more prosperous economy and a more educated workforce,” says Teri A Hansen, President|CEO of Barancik Foundation. “Our most immediate need is to support teachers who are already in the classroom.”
The bonuses have already made an immediate impact on both teachers and preschool directors, who have always had to be resourceful in offering incentives to their staff. Through a study commissioned by Barancik Foundation and the ELC, most recipients noted the bonuses would significantly impact their ability to remain in the profession amidst economic pressure to leave. The data has also shown that the number of first-year teachers has grown from 8% of the workforce to 12%, indicating a slight uptick in people entering the industry locally since the beginning of these efforts.
“There’s a clear benefit for our staff’s financial situation,” says Barbara Zier, Director of Venice Nokomis Community Preschool. “I have some teachers who won’t have to pick up extra jobs outside of work hours now because of this support. The added benefit is the pride in being seen and recognized for what we do each day.”
A large body of research shows that a child’s early educational years are vital to laying down a foundation for a successful and healthy life. Research also suggests that early childhood educators who work with pre-K ages can significantly impact the futures of the children with which they work. Yet there are significant disparities in pay and benefits for teachers who work with younger children compared to middle-and-high-school-aged kids.
“We are so lucky to have the dedication of this professional workforce in our community,” says Janet Kahn, Chief Executive Officer of the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County. “But more needs to be done to show our appreciation for the people who are so vital to the health of our economy and safety of our kids. We can all do more, and we invite the community to join us in this effort.”
Recipients expressed gratitude and said the bonus made them feel appreciated and recognized. They indicated that this increases their motivation and satisfaction with their job. The sample quotes provided by anonymous respondents capture the sentiment expressed by many:
“A retention bonus reassures me that Early Childhood Professionals, such as myself, are valued by our communities for the vital role we play in the growth and development of our children.”
“Professionally, it makes a statement to everyone working in the field that they are valued and our work is recognized by decision-makers.”
“I love this field, so I plan to stay no matter what. However, being rewarded with a retention bonus for remaining in the field during the hardest times of COVID is heartwarming knowing we are truly appreciated.”
“I love reminding myself that my toddlers are the future of the world and I get to help shape them into wonderful children! Who knows what they will become, the possibilities are endless! “
With continued support from the community, we can ensure that our children have the bright start they deserve. To learn more and support the effort, visit www.whyearlylearningmatters.org.