Refundable Tax Credit to Boost Wages, Increase Quality for Arkansas’ Early Childhood Workers

Two-third of Arkansas children under age 5 live in homes where both parents work. Many Arkansas children spend about 11,500 hours of their lives in child care during the years before kindergarten—that’s more time spent in an early care and education setting than they’ll spend in school from kindergarten through 9th grade. Our early education professionals, working in partnership with parents, are in the best position to influence children’s positive development and future success.

Unfortunately, the day-to-day realities many early educators face make delivering on this potential nearly impossible to achieve. Child care programs pay staff based on what they can afford. Operating budgets are tight, and parents can’t afford to pay more either. The result is that staff are underpaid and stressed, with little incentive for higher education, which can better promote healthy child development.

The Early Childhood Education Workforce Quality Incentive Act, would provide an innovative and effective approach to this trilemma by creating a four-year pilot program aimed at early childhood educators making less than the state minimum teacher salary for K-12 public schools. These educators would be eligible for a refundable tax incentive based on their highest credential level. This incentive would help retain highly-trained early childhood educators and has the potential to also improve the quality of ECE programs by encouraging educators and directors to obtain higher credentials and increase their expertise.

The Arkansas workforce depends on our early childhood workforce. Early childhood care and education is an indispensable resource in Arkansas communities that supports working parents and their employers—and helps build the workforce we’ll depend on tomorrow and for decades to come.

It’s time for Arkansas to join the 38 other states and localities, including our neighbors—Missouri, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma—and other largely rural states like Iowa, who have implemented solutions to boost wages with a refundable tax credit linked to education and certification.

Thank you to the State Senators who supported this bill during the 2019 legislative session. We are encouraged by the enthusiasm for this idea to be enacted into law in the future.