How Centering the Voices of Early Childhood Educators in Rural Communities Can Promote Equity – Digital Promise

How Centering the Voices of Early Childhood Educators in Rural Communities Can Promote Equity

July 8, 2024 | By

For decades, education experts have studied the benefits of early childhood education for a child’s development, from the early years into adulthood. We know that children who complete a pre-K program are more likely to have improved behavioral outcomes and enroll in college, and have better health outcomes, self-regulation, and academic readiness. Likewise, working parents increasingly rely on childcare centers to educate and assist in the development of their children. Pressure from parents and experts has led many states to adopt policies that ensure availability and access to early childhood education. For example, Oklahoma, Florida, and Vermont have implemented universal pre-K policies, making pre-K freely available across the state regardless of a family’s income, and other states are implementing policies to bolster qualifications and workforce pathways for educators.

Despite these state efforts, early childhood education throughout the United States faces three main issues:

  1. A lack of availability and an exorbitant cost for parents, especially in areas without universal access.
  2. Inconsistent standards across states and centers.
  3. Challenges associated with recruiting and retaining early childhood educators.

While some federal programs, such as Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund, offer services for low-income families, they are often underfunded and oversubscribed, leaving states to handle the largest portion of early childcare and education programs. Without strong federal programs, participation in early childhood education varies drastically from state to state. In 2022, North Dakota had the lowest percentage of children aged 3-4 years old enrolled in preschool at 29.1 percent, while Washington D.C. had 78.6 percent of its 3-4 year old population enrolled in preschool (U.S. Census Bureau, 2022). Likewise, policies affecting the early childhood education workforce vary from state to state, with some states implementing programs in an attempt to recruit and retain educators. Digital Promise had the opportunity to collaborate with the Center of Excellence for Learning Sciences at Tennessee State University to explore a workforce program in Tennessee.

This past year, we investigated potential equity challenges for early childhood educators participating in the Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance (TECTA). TECTA is a statewide program that provides assistance and financial support for early childhood educators to further their education and training. Focus groups revealed rural participants faced several obstacles, including reliable transportation, as their closest center was over an hour’s drive. While the travel burden was partially alleviated when the COVID-19 pandemic shifted several trainings and programs online, a lack of access to technology and the internet prevented some learners from participating. As the program continues, we recommend that special consideration should be given to the rural/urban divide to ensure equity and meet challenges in all areas.

As observed in Tennessee, educators’ voices are crucial for effective policy. Federal and state governments should consider further ECE policy and consult not only advocacy organizations and researchers but also educators—particularly historically and systematically excluded early childhood educators. Until the United States has comprehensive, early childhood education policies and programs, ECE associations, unions, researchers, and educators should continue advocating at the state level, to ensure that policymakers are aware of the benefits of early care and education and hear the experiences of early childhood educators.

Stay informed! Our upcoming report will highlight the benefits of combating the challenges that impact ECE providers and the importance of empowering ECE providers through education reform and high quality skill enhancement. To learn more about this work, read our blog post, Are Early Childhood Training and Skill-Building Accessible in Rural Communities?, and sign up for our ConnectED Pathways newsletter to stay updated on our projects and partnerships.


  1. U.S. Census Bureau. (2022). School Enrollment (American Community Survey, ACS 1-Year Estimates Subject Tables, Table S1401) [dataset]. SCHOOL ENROLLMENT&g=010XX00US$0400000&moe=false&tp=true.

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