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(The Center Square) – Licensure requirements, professional development opportunities and employment compensation are among some of the weighty issues a new Connecticut task force will delve into in the coming months.

The state’s Early Childhood Workforce Development Task Force held its first monthly meeting recently and began laying the groundwork for its deep-dive conversations in the coming months.

The Connecticut General Assembly formed the group, which is comprised of a number of educators across the state. A report on the task force’s findings is due in January.

Task force members held their inaugural meeting on Aug. 24 against the backdrop of a number of statistics critics say have long challenged staffing within the early childhood sector of the educational arena.

Full-time early education teachers, for instance, are paid an average hourly wage of $14, and real wages within the profession have reportedly declined in recent years, despite inflationary pressures.

Another issue the panel could tackle in the coming months is the racial disparities within the profession. According to the Center for American Progress, wage gaps have grown in the past decade between racial groups, from 84% in 2012 to 76% this year.

Task force member Paige Bray, an academic advisor and program coordinator for early childhood programs at the University of Hartford, said the seeds for the effort underway were first planted two years ago.

Initially, there were plans of having a multi-year discussion of solutions around the workforce challenges within the early childhood industry.

“Maybe, had we not had a pandemic, we would have had about 18 months … but we have four good months to work with now,” Bray said.

Most of the panelists on the task force work within Connecticut’s early childhood space. But there are members from other educational backgrounds as well.

Stephen Hegedus, dean of Southern Connecticut State University’s College of Education, is among the panelists. While the higher education sphere differs widely from early education on, Hegedus said there also are a number of commonalities.

“I’ve seen, in my career, very similar issues that we are addressing today in the teaching and learning of mathematics,” Hegedus said. “There are the achievement gaps and the inequities that we have in a wide variety of settings in the classroom and beyond.”

The task force’s debut meeting was an organizational one of sorts, and members hashed over some of the priorities, leading up to the creation of the report.

“I’m really concerned that we’re not speaking very explicitly to the compensation issue,” said Georgia Goldburn, executive director of the faith-based nonprofit Hope for New Haven Inc.

A full analysis of equity and pay among racial and ethnic groups of staffers will be included in the task force’s mission.

As more information emerges, Goldburn said, “I think that it’s a landmine. I feel like we need to have someone thinking through all aspects of it.”

Karen Lott, executive director of the Women’s League Child Development Center, said she views the group’s mission as an extension of talks that had taken place within the General Assembly this past legislative cycle.

“I think there was significant progress in this last legislative session around early childcare and education,” Lott said. “There was an elevation of the importance and the central care that early care and education plays in our economy.”