For children from birth through age five, an educational head start is key to future economic and social mobility. But despite the importance of education to young children’s lives, early childhood teachers rank among the lowest wage occupations in the United States.

And the vast majority of these teachers are women.

Fortunately, the world is awakening to this glaring discrepancy. Across the country, communities are creating transformation programs to attract and support childcare educators and entrepreneurs that promise benefits for children, teachers and businesses.

Training and Forgivable Loans for Child Care Businesses

In Pittsburgh, The Business of Child Care[1] training program at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University is helping new and established child care providers flourish and serve neighborhoods that need them the most. With intensive eight-week training and one-on-one counseling, the program gives entrepreneurs skills for managing their businesses and access to funding to scale their operations.

“The program provides a roadmap of the state’s licensing and permitting requirements and a better understanding of how to operate a profitable business,” said Anne Flynn Schlicht, director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, which facilitates the program.

When participants complete the program, they have access to the entrepreneurship center’s resources, one-on-one technical assistance counseling, a peer support group, and mentors to aid in their business development. They also receive a Certificate of Completion and are eligible for an additional $5,000 in forgivable loan funds through the Childcare Reinvestment Business Fund (CRiB).[2] CRiB is a pilot program of Invest PGH, Inc.

Invest PGH is a Community Development Financial Institution created by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA). The PNC Foundation provided funding to help establish InvestPGH, and a portion of the funding was earmarked to create CRiB.

Through CRiB, local licensed child care businesses may qualify for up to $20,000 in forgivable loans. Funding can be used for working capital, payroll, staff education, enrollment scholarships, equipment and minor improvements.

Priority is given to women- and minority-led child care centers, those that serve a high percentage of children receiving subsidies, and centers that demonstrate a strong financial need.

Supporting Entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh

Monique Jackson, owner of Moe’s Childcare & Learning Center, was a single mother of three working three jobs when she decided to launch her home-based business in 2020. Jackson had used her savings to cover startup costs, from permit fees and marketing to supplies.

After completing Chatham’s program in 2022, Jackson was approved for $25,000 in CRiB program funding, which helped her with business expenses, including payroll. It also allowed her to expand, adding drop-in services for parents who work or attend school on weekends. As a result, she’s considering converting her two-car garage to increase enrollment rather than taking on the expense of leasing a larger space.

Patricia Stanko of Peace Love and Learning Child Care in Pittsburgh, and a facilitator for The Business of Child Care program, said the funding has been crucial in helping these small business owners survive Covid restrictions and staffing shortages. The knowledge they gained was vital, too, she said, with participants leaning into the chance to ask questions specific to their situations.

“Many people outside the industry don't realize how regulated child care is and how difficult it is to get started as a new provider,” Stanko said. “Plus, child care providers must be more than great caregivers. Quality providers must be well-rounded — in business, management and administration as well as understanding early education and child development.”

For entrepreneurs like Jackson, the cohort experience offered valuable business ideas and support in addition to funding. Jackson learned that her peers experienced the same challenges, from staffing shortages to income fluctuations and varying enrollment levels. “I used to think it was just me,” she said.

How North Texas is Meeting its Need for Early Childhood Teachers

In 2017, Dallas College officials saw data citing the need for about 4,500 early childhood educators to serve children from birth to third grade in North Texas. “We were not producing nearly enough to fill that need,” said Robert DeHaas, vice provost of the School of Education at Dallas College. The college is also aware that the ability to offer high-quality early childhood education is linked to the health of the region, he said.

Consequently, Dallas College created a four-year early childhood education degree program. PNC supported the college’s effort, which began with petitioning the Texas legislature to authorize the state’s two-year colleges to award bachelor's degrees in high-need areas.

An initial PNC Foundation grant of $75,000 helped to establish Dallas College’s Early Childhood Education Institute, which launched its first-of-its-kind program in 2020. It aids early childhood teachers serving low-income neighborhoods by enriching their classroom skills, which helps close the wage gap for these workers.

“In North Texas, an early childhood educator with a bachelor’s degree and a teacher’s license can earn a first-year salary of $60,000, with benefits, for teaching 3- and 4-year-olds. That’s triple the wage of child care workers without the four-year degree. Students in our program at Dallas College have access to this pathway and wage-earning potential.”

PNC Foundation has supported the endeavor with an additional $150,000 since the initial grant – funding made possible through PNC Grow Up Great®, a $500 million, multi-year, bilingual initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

The effort has helped to supply tuition assistance to 500 students, about 90 percent of whom are students of color and the first generation in their families to attend college. About 85 percent of the enrollees are women. Historically, these segments of the population have been shut out of higher education because of the cost, said DeHaas. PNC’s investment helps students graduate on time because they can enroll full-time without having to work simultaneously or cover child care and tuition, he added.

“Ultimately, we are working to improve opportunities for young children and the teachers who educate them,” said Amber Scanlan, PNC senior vice president and director of client & community relations for North Texas. “That creates greater opportunities for professional success and economic mobility for the teachers – who are primarily women -- and stronger outcomes for the young children they teach.”