Tackling the predicament of high turnover and low teacher retention in Head Start/Early Head Start programs is not always easy. Tying retention to a carefully determined compensation plan can also be a challenge. Yet, asking this question is important – how does your fiscal strategy support teacher retention?

Before we discuss fiscal strategies to enhance teacher retention, let’s look at what’s required of Head Start/Early Head Start programs –

The Head Start Act requires Head Start/Early Head Start programs to “ensure that compensation is adequate to attract and retain qualified staff for the programs involved in order to enhance program quality” (Sec. 640(5)(A)(i)).

Focus Area Two Monitoring Protocol of the Aligned Monitoring System 2.0 (AMS 2.0) stresses the importance of retention as well. Within the Monitoring and Implementing Fiscal Infrastructure section of the protocol, one of the key performance measures is “the grantee has an approach for maintaining a system for compensation, benefits, and professional development opportunities to recruit and retain qualified program and fiscal staff to ensure high-quality service delivery.”

Recruitment and retention is also a clear focus in Designation Renewal System (DRS). The recent DRS Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) asked applicants to describe in the Staffing and Supporting a Strong Early Learning Workforce section of their proposal how they will attract and retain qualified staff.

A requirement of Head Start/Early Head Start programs, a focus of federal monitoring, and a component of DRS – recruitment and retention is a top priority!  

It is essential to understand the importance of the relationship between the cost of quality and teacher compensation, as well as retention.

Attracting and retaining staff who are able to implement a high-quality comprehensive early childhood program should be a program-wide priority. While there are a variety of strategies to retain staff, the fiscal piece is an core component of teacher retention. Consider, how are the salaries in your program set? They should be reflective of the scope of responsibility and skills required of the position. Like many of you, we’ve heard and observed that Head Start/Early Head Start teachers often leave their positions for higher-paying, better-compensated positions locally. Recognizing that it may be easier said than done, offering compensation packages that take steps closer to what is offered at comparable positions locally is one fiscal strategy that may have a substantial impact on retention.

We recommend rooting your compensation strategy in data. Wage and fringe benefit comparability studies provide a wealth of information about pay rates at Head Start/Early Head Start and child care programs in a particular area (state, region, community). State or county agencies or organizations may conduct these studies, or, you could conduct one on your own. With the latter, we suggest including all relevant comparable positions, including those at public schools. Such a study will equip you with actual information about how your compensation package compares to others locally. This will help you to make data-informed decisions about your compensation strategy.

Support for educational attainment is another highly desirable recruitment and retention strategy. This, of course, requires an allocation of funding as well! Does your fiscal strategy include salary enhancements for educational attainment, or provide compensation for credentials or coursework? These are worthwhile investments that will help you to build and retain a strong workforce. Ideally, you will gain efficiencies by retaining staff who meet required competencies and qualifications and who choose to stay at your program. You might consider maximizing training and professional development dollars by leveraging relationships with other local programs or securing funding assistance. Partaking in joint trainings, for example, might help to alleviate some of costs associated with training. State initiatives that support educational attainment should also be explored to reduce the need to execute your retention strategies completely with Head Start/Early Head Start funds.

If your program is an Early Head Start – Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) grantee, you might face even more of a challenge with your compensation strategy due to Child Care Partners’ (CCP) own salary structure. Yet, this is equally as essential to meet the standards. So, what to do? We recommend that in the payment rate, contract and policies that an hourly wage and career/salary ladder be included. This strategy will help to ensure recruitment, retention and advancement in salary and titling of qualified teachers. Without this, you may face a cycle of turnover and that could negatively impact the success of the program. EHS-CCP grantees and CCPs need to embrace this as an opportunity to cost model a comprehensive salary strategy that allows the entire center to elevate their quality rating. (Keep in the loop with our EHS-CCP In Depth blog where we’ll provide additional guidance on this topic.)

Retaining highly qualified staff benefits children, families, and the teachers themselves. We strongly recommend dedicating time to reflect on how your program’s fiscal strategy supports retention. This effort will help to ensure continuous improvement of the high-quality services your program provides to children and families. If your program needs assistance to analyze fiscal strategies to support retention, please feel free to be in touch. Our dynamic team of expert consultants would be glad to explore with you the types of resources and supports that may be of interest to your program. 

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