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 childcare option representing everything early childhood education should be. Each classroom is led by a teacher with a four-year degree in early childhood education. These teachers earn a livable wage for their experience, skill, and heart. We are better parents for having the Children’s Center in our lives.
We were shocked and devastated to receive an announcement — after 5 p.m. on a Friday — that all nine teachers at the Children’s Center had been given notice their positions would not exist come fall. Due to budget constraints, the Children’s Center was being “restructured,” and the nine teachers — who found out about the plan just a few hours before we did — would have to reapply to a Children’s Center with only two head teachers and assistant teachers. Those lucky enough to be re-hired to the less-qualified positions could face a $15,000 pay cut.
This decision clashes with the university’s mission. The WSU administration alleges the decision is made based on finances but refuses to share the operating budget and has not provided the center an opportunity to sharpen its pencil. It ignores mountains of evidence that stress 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 future educator who enters Helble Hall is the Children’s Center, established in 1973 to provide high-quality, comprehensive educational programming to our youngest children. Since then, it has provided mentoring and employment for the university’s teaching majors and helped student parents finish their degree without stressing about finding — and affording — childcare.
At the core of the Children’s Center success are the teachers. The nine current teachers are all working mothers. Seven of them are the primary caregivers for their children. Six are alumni of Winona State, all have four-year degrees and three have master’s. Together, they have 114 years of experience at WSU and 158 total years of experience in early childhood education.
It is appalling that Winona State would end the careers of these professionals without notice, discussion, or compassion. It is shocking that Winona State would say to its graduates and its education students, “you are not worth a livable wage.”
We recognize that WSU is facing dire financial stresses and difficult decisions need to be made. But WSU should strive to be a leader in education, insisting that early childhood professionals are paid what they are worth. We should not “follow established norms and practices,” but should instead, as the WSU mission says, “respond imaginatively and creatively.”
Rural America is in a childcare crisis. The Children’s Center should demonstrate what early childhood education should look like at a premier institution of higher education. It should be given a chance to prove what it can do in its home with its dedicated staff inspiring classrooms full of children during a normal, non-pandemic year. We urge the WSU administration to not follow through with the center’s medieval restructuring and instead command the center to make innovative changes that move the bottom line in the best direction possible.
Future educators are watching.
Editor’s note: WSU’s statement about the center’s restructuring here.