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Missouri Department of Children's Leader: Early Childhood Education Pipeline Is 'Very Dry'

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, one-third of Missouri families say they or someone in their family has quit, never had, or lost a job in the past 12 months because of parenting issues. Reportedly changed jobs. Missouri’s economy is losing an estimated $1.35 billion a year to childcare problems.

Pam Thomas, vice chair of the Missouri Department of Children’s Services, said her office is working to increase access to quality early childhood education programs.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education building (Photo credit: Alisa Nelson)

“We have a pipeline and we have to realize that that pipeline is very dry right now,” she said.

As of the 2021 state budget year, approximately 34% of low-income Missouri children through age 5 say they have access to publicly funded early childhood education programs. Little is known about the quality of these programs, according to the state.

Thomas mentioned a college in Missouri that had four classes of college students pursuing a degree in early childhood education. According to Thomas, the university currently has only four students.

“This job is much bigger than our office, because the conversation of wanting to be an early childhood specialist isn’t happening. It’s not happening,” Thomas said. “No students go on to higher education. Offering scholarships or comprehensive support doesn’t feed them.”

She said entry-level early childcare jobs aren’t affordable wages, but other avenues in the field might be.

“I don’t even think it’s a worthy profession,” said Thomas.

Carroll Hohlquist, vice president of the Missouri State Board of Education in Kansas City, said the state needs to find a way to expand the pipeline.

“We are at risk of early childhood staff and providers. “I urge you to really focus on this,” Hallquist said. “This is the future of Missouri. It’s the most important thing we can do to focus on early childhood education.”

According to the Missouri Department of Children’s Affairs, up to $7.30 of every dollar invested in early childhood education is returned to the state.

St. Joseph’s School Board President Charlie Shields said solving the state’s child care access problem will enable Missouri to grow.

“This will ultimately be an economic development tool for the future because it does two things. And in the long run, it will create a workforce 15 years from now, so if you want to have a long-term, immediate impact on the state’s economy, imagine where to invest more money than in this sector. Somehow we have to keep preaching that message: this is far more important than any incentive package or tax system, whether it is more important than the right to work or not. This is an issue that enables our state to grow, and we need to get people on board,” he said.

Shields, CEO of Kansas City’s Truman Medical Center, said the availability of affordable early childcare is one reason his employees are leaving so much.

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