From: Jennifer Anderson and Dave Crawford, Heather and John Casper, Marcy Faircloth and Caylan Larson, Diana Perez, Kathy and Brian Jicinsky, Allison Quam and Andy Bloedorn, Claire Richards and Sam Michael, Katie Subra, Meghan Booth and Jon Mauser, Heather and Patrick Reilly, Nicole Herold, Jessica Schmidt, Dylan Blumentritt, Dani and Joe Holtzclaw, Elizabeth Thiel and Travis Norman, Abby and Brian Kugel, and Joe West and Valeria Stepanova
It is with great pride that we send our children to the Winona State University (WSU) Children’s Center, a child care option representing everything early childhood education should be. Each class is led by a teacher with a four-year diploma in early childhood education. These teachers earn a living wage for their experience, skills and heart. We are better parents to have the Children’s Center in our lives.
We were shocked and devastated to receive an announcement – after 5 p.m. on a Friday – that the nine teachers at the Children’s Center had been notified that their positions would not exist in the fall. Due to budget constraints, the children’s center was being “restructured” and the nine teachers – who discovered the plan just hours before us – were expected to reapply at a children’s center with only two principals and assistants. Those fortunate enough to be rehired into less skilled positions could face a pay cut of $ 15,000.
This decision clashes with the mission of the university. The WSU administration alleges that the decision is made on the basis of finances but refuses to share the operating budget and has not provided the center with an opportunity to sharpen its pencil. It ignores mountains of evidence that underscore the importance of early childhood education. And it undermines the goals of the Sparkling New Education Village, which promised to be “an inspiration for excellence in teaching and learning.”
Visible to every prospective educator who enters Helble Hall is the Children’s Center, established in 1973 to provide comprehensive, high-quality educational programming to our youngest children. Since then, he has provided mentoring and employment to the college’s teaching majors and helped student-parents complete their degrees without worrying about finding – and paying for – childcare.
Teachers are at the heart of the success of the Children’s Center. The current nine teachers are all working mothers. Seven of them are the primary caregivers of their children. Six are alumni of the State of Winona, all have a four-year degree and three have a master’s degree. Together they have 114 years of experience at WSU and a total of 158 years of experience in early childhood education.
It is appalling that Winona State is ending the careers of these professionals without notice, discussion, or compassion. It is shocking that the State of Winona is telling its graduates and education students, “You are not worth a living wage. “
We recognize that WSU faces extreme financial strains and that tough decisions need to be made. But WSU should strive to be a leader in education, insisting that early childhood professionals be paid what they are worth. We should not “follow established norms and practices”, but rather, as the WSU mission says, “respond imaginatively and creatively”.
Rural America is in a child care crisis. The Children’s Center should show what early childhood education should look like at a leading higher education institution. He should have the chance to prove what he can do in his home with his dedicated staff inspiring classrooms full of children in a normal, pandemic-free year. We urge the WSU administration not to continue with the medieval restructuring of the center and instead order it to make innovative changes that move the results forward in the best possible direction.
Future educators are watching.
Editor’s note: WSU statement on center restructuring here.