Early childhood education & workforce issues are linked

Updated: Apr 19

By Tiffany Gallegos Whitley

It has been a deep learning experience for me to understand the depth and overlap of early childhood education (ages 0-5) and workforce development.

For a while, my view of early childhood education was narrow. I knew it was an important foundation for kids to learn and grow into healthy adults, which is important for our future workforce. I also knew early childhood educators are cut from a very special cloth and deserve the highest pedestal because nothing will humble you faster than trying to work with a pack of tiny humans (believe me, I’ve tried).

While these statements are true, I’ve learned more about how the benefits of early childhood education go beyond the individual child. It impacts families and the workforce system as a whole.

The good news is there is a plethora of research and evidence-based models for early childhood education. The not-so-good news? When I’ve looked at early childhood education offered through childcare centers, quality and affordable centers are not as accessible to low-to-moderate income families and those of color.

I’ve heard from both clients and nonprofits over the years that it’s hard to start or keep a job when there are long waitlists for childcare, as well as for programs such as Child Care Services that can help pay for childcare. That means a parent can be on two waitlists at once — for a childcare opening and for funds to pay for it.

I can’t imagine trying to deal with both of these challenges simultaneously. I thought it was overwhelming trying to find quality childcare for my son. Leaving your baby in a quality center is hard enough. It should never be the case that a parent or guardian has to choose subpar childcare, but it happens. Investing in accessible, affordable, and quality childcare not only supports our tiniest humans, but also their families and our overall workforce system.

There are numerous ways other communities across the country are tackling this issue, and I’m glad to see some movement on this topic coming this month. The Junior League of Waco and United Way Waco-McLennan County will host a special event 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. April 7 at the Mayborn Museum. It will include a screening of the film, "No Small Matter." This documentary explores the most overlooked, underestimated, and powerful force for good in America today — early childhood education.

There also will be a panel after the screening to discuss the importance of investing and supporting early childhood efforts locally. The panel will include the following community leaders:

  • Jennifer Branch, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce

  • Dr. Daelynn Copeland, McLennan Community College

  • Deidra Emerson, City of Waco

  • Dr. Robin McDurham, Transformation Waco

  • Jessica Attas, Texas Association of Business

I urge anyone interested to attend. The event is free and will have lunch provided. You can find the registration link here.

Tiffany Gallegos Whitley is director of workforce initiatives for Prosper Waco.