State deals with critical preschool teacher shortage

State deals with critical preschool teacher shortage

The number of people perusing the field of early childhood education is declining, and it’s creating a critical preschool teacher shortage in Wisconsin.

With more money in elementary and high school teaching jobs experts fear the shortage won’t change unless salaries do.

Lisa Hawkins has taught at the Waisman Early Childhood program for 25 years, and there is no place she’d rather be.

“It’s so exciting and it’s so fun to come to work every day,” Hawkins said.

She admits, though, it’s hard sometimes.

“I am a single mom of three boys and the salaries are very, very low,” Hawkins said. “It’s been really hard to live on it.”

Hawkins is not alone. On Wednesday, the Office of Child Care and Family Resources hosted a discussion on the state’s growing preschool teacher shortage.

“Three to four out of 10 teachers are leaving their classroom every year,” Ruth Schmidt, of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, said.

That’s roughly 35 percent of early childhood educators. In “lower quality” programs the turnover rate is closer to 50 percent.

“Some childcare programs are leaving entire classrooms empty because they can’t find a qualified early childhood teacher,” Schmidt said.

Experts say the shortage can be blamed on low salaries, which according to one study is on average $20,000. Schmidt said more public funding is a major solution to the problem.

“We have to stop looking at child care as only and always being the responsibility of mom or dad to figure out,” Schmidt said.

Many of the experts at the event urged residents to call on their local lawmakers and make early childhood education funding more of a priority.