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Governor McKee, RI DHS Announce First Round of Early Childhood Educator Awardees Through Step Up to Child Care WAGE$

PROVIDENCE, RI Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS), in partnership with the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (RIAEYC), today announced the first round of 54 awardees for the Step Up to Child Care WAGE$ Program (WAGE$) pilot program. Step Up to WAGE$ provides education-based salary supplements to teachers, directors, and family childcare providers working with young children.

"Early educators across our state support our youngest learners' development and readiness for school," said Governor McKee. "However, their compensation often does not reflect the importance of their work. That's why I am proud to have established the Pandemic Retention Bonus program as well as now the Step Up to Child Care WAGE$ pilot. Together, these programs are investing in early educators across the state and piloting strategies for how we can attract and retain early educators long-term. I congratulate these first awardees in this pilot program and thank them for their efforts and commitment to young children."

Created by Child Care Services Association in North Carolina, the Child Care WAGE$ Program is an evidence-informed, outcome-driven initiative designed to increase the education and retention of the early care and education workforce through tiered supplemental bonuses based on educational attainment. Since the application opened in May 2023, Rhode Island's Step Up to Child Care WAGE$ pilot program has received 587 applications. The first round of awardees includes 54 educators, representing educators from 44 center-based programs and 10 Family Child Care programs. The first round of awardees was determined based on a variety of factors including date of completion of the application and eligibility for the program. Future rounds of awardees will be announced in the coming months.

Kimberly Merolla-Brito, director, Department of Human Services said, "We are thrilled to make this first round of awards to the hard-working educators who are essential to supporting our children and our state's economy. This program focuses on rewarding educational attainment because we know educators with advanced education are often taking a pay cut to be in early childhood. Based on the data collected from the applications, we see that educators with post-secondary degrees in early childhood are making $16.91/hour on average, making it difficult to attract and retain people in this essential field."

Lisa Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (RIAEYC), the Rhode Island based non-profit that manages the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship Program and now the Step Up to WAGE$ Pilot for the state, said, "We are excited that this pilot has been so well received by the early education community. We are grateful to the state for recognizing the need for investing in the early educator workforce and we look forward to working with the awardees in this round and future rounds to support retention of highly qualified educators in the field."

The pilot program is funded through a time-limited federal Preschool Development birth through five Planning Grant from the Administration for Children and Families. Due the significant positive response to the pilot, at this time, DHS and RIAEYC have closed the application process because they expect that all funds will be committed based on existing applications. If educators are interested in the Step Up to WAGE$ pilot but have not yet applied, RIAEYC will be placing educators on an outreach notification list about future award opportunities.


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