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ACNJ Seeking Early Learning Policy Analyst

Posted on March 28, 2024

Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) is a nationally recognized research and advocacy non-profit organization that works to advance policies that help children and families. ACNJ provides policy expertise, and public education to create positive systems change and enjoys a 45-year track record in raising accountability, protecting rights and improving outcomes for children.
ACNJ’s work has improved the lives of thousands of New Jersey children in the areas of access to early care and education, health care and hunger, child protection, juvenile justice and economic supports to low-income families. The organization is governed by a diverse and highly respected Board of Trustees and staff, who are united by a deep concern for the well-being of New Jersey children, especially our most vulnerable.

ACNJ is currently seeking a Policy Analyst for Early Learning to assist ACNJ’s Director of Early Learning Policy and Advocacy advance ACNJ’s early learning programmatic and legislative agenda. This agenda is focused on the needs of young children, prenatal to age eight and their families. ACNJ is a leader in New Jersey and nationally and is committed to building an equitable foundation of early learning success for children prenatal to eight, including but not limited to accessing the high quality supports and service necessary to thrive including maternal and early relational health, affordable quality childcare, and quality preschool.

The Policy Analyst for Early Learning should be a content expert in an early learning issue area including child care and/or preschool, and have experience in working with coalitions and partners. Legislative experience is a plus.

The Policy Analyst reports directly to the Director for Early Learning Advocacy and Policy Director and will be responsible to:

  • Elevate ACNJ’s early learning policy and advocacy priorities by representing ACNJ in external meetings and developing relationships with key external stakeholders, community organizations, policymakers, leaders, funders and other advocates to support ACNJ’s early learning priorities
  • Represent ACNJ’s early learning agenda in national and state networks. Help execute the advocacy strategy for ACNJ’s policy agenda, including informing legislative and regulatory proposals, responding to inquiries from allies, and other long-term and rapid-response opportunities
  • Inform the organization’s policy positions by monitoring state early learning related legislative and regulatory proposals, budget, programmatic initiatives, and active and proposed reforms. Produce policy briefs, reports, statements, and other written materials that make early learning policy accessible to a broad array of stakeholders and ensure that they are high-quality, accurate, equity-driven, and actionable, as well as aligned with ACNJ’s mission and goals
  • Collaborate with ACNJ Communications Team to create accessible and timely content to inform and educate partner organizations, supporters, funders, staff, government officials and legislators, and others of ACNJ’s early learning policy goals, processes, and outcomes, including regular updates for newsletters, website, social media, press releases, and Action Alerts when needed
  • Keep apprised of research and advocacy nationally and in other states, reporting on early learning conversations across government, media think tanks, academia and advocates
  • Help build early learning policy and advocacy knowledge and skills among ACNJ staff and Board and keep stakeholders informed on public policy outcomes and opportunities
  • Ensure that grant deliverables supporting this position are met, and collaborate with Communications Team and Development Staff on early learning grant-related projects, assignments, and activities

The ideal candidate has/can:

  • Ability to lead and develop advocacy and policy initiatives with minimal supervision
  • Track record of critically evaluating diverse and complex sources of information, and identifying priorities and strategies based on findings
  • A strong vision for improving the policies and practices that impact children prenatal to age eight and their families – particularly children and families of color and from low-income households and other historically marginalized communities
  • Skills to communicate complex issues with external and internal audiences in a clear and credible manner
  • Work effectively with colleagues to coordinate strategies and activities across teams, and effectively confront and manage difficult situations
  • Demonstrate respect and sensitivity for all communities and cultures among staff and partners
  • Respond positively and productively to challenges and accepts new goals, priorities, or procedures, manages multiple requests and make changes based on an understanding of priorities
  • Exhibit relationship management skills such as proactively engaging in and promoting clear communication of information and needs within relationships
  • Decisiveness. Capable of timely and quality decision-making.

Experience and credential requirements:

  • Early learning related graduate degree or law degree and at least 8 years of experience in an early learning area such as child care or preschool, with progressively increasing responsibility, and proven track record of advancing early care and education policy
  • Demonstrated competency in communicating complex information clearly in writing and in oral presentations
  • Public speaking and presentation skills, as well as strong written communication skills
  • Track record of communicating with high-level policymakers, including those in the legislative and executive branches of government is a plus.

At ACNJ, we want staff to love their work and show respect and empathy to all. We encourage staff to work together across positions and roles. We are being deliberate and self-reflective about the team and culture that we are building, seeking staff who have different strengths, backgrounds and experiences, who share a passion for improving outcomes for children and strengthening families. We believe that diversity and inclusion will be key to our success and are seeking candidates who are strong in their own aptitudes and who care deeply about supporting each other's growth. The viewpoints of all of our employees and board members are key to our success.

ACNJ’s offices are located in Newark, NJ and staff is currently working a hybrid schedule of 3 days in the office and 2 days remote. The salary range for this role is $75,000 to $80,000.

Interested applicants should send their resume and cover letter to Winifred Smith-Jenkins at wsmith-jenkins@acnj.org.

Early Childhood Educators: Underpaid and Overburdened

Posted on March 20, 2024

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By Robyn E. Koenig
Pre-K Teacher
Acelero Learning, North Brunswick School District

Robyn works with children ages 3 to 5. She holds a Master's in Mathematics and Reading from Walden University, and a Bachelor's in ECE from Kean University.

To hear more about Robyn's experiences in the field of ECE, contact her at rkoenig@acelero.net.

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As a pre-K teacher for over 26 years, I’d like to share my thoughts on how teachers have been treated and some of the things we have been through over the past few years. Teaching is a calling and not everyone can do it. Many people feel early childhood education (ECE) is all play and fun.  No one knows about the paperwork and observations that go into helping 3- to 5-year-olds. Many times, ECE teachers are overlooked. Quite recently, I began to assist my place of employment with an advocacy position to help teachers be heard on a very important issue: their salary.

ECE teachers in N.J. are paid based on multiple factors such as their schooling, their experience, and where they teach. Many times, it is not consistent and varies, even within companies. For example, ECE teachers are paid 39.4% less than their K-8 colleagues. The poverty rate among these teachers is 14.1%, much higher than N.J. workers in general (5.8%), and almost 8 times higher than K-8 teachers (1.8%). I have personally seen teachers, myself included, struggle financially, which causes stress and depression. Living paycheck to paycheck with a family of four is not easy, especially if you are the breadwinner.

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Many teachers choose to leave positions due to pay–not because they want to, but because they must go where the money will better help their families. I have personally experienced this recently, in December of 2023, when my Teacher Assistant (TA) left to another school district. Why did she leave? For more pay and better benefits. These situations cause many different emotions in the classrooms of pre-K students. Of course, they don’t understand money like adults (not that I told them why she left). It is currently March 2024 and the children still ask for her and tell me they miss her. My current TA is awesome but because she is new, the entire class has reverted to its September behavior. With me being the only constant and my new TA still learning the ropes, it puts more pressure on me in the classroom– all because the pay wasn’t good enough for my previous TA to stay.

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If only my district could have matched her new offer, or at least made a counteroffer, the lives of 16 people would have been better–15 of those being the little ones. I’m not trying to sound selfish but working with ECE... it’s a big job. Being the foundation for children’s entire school career is a responsibility that comes with much pressure. The smoother the classroom runs, the better the experience for everyone. If teachers or TAs leave during the middle of the year, everyone else needs to pivot and change gears to make sure to the best of their ability that the smoothness continues.

During the pandemic, from March 2020 to June 2020, teachers were praised for their jobs. After that, they were ridiculed because of changes that were made. Most times, teachers have no say in what happens in their classroom, but the general public doesn’t know that. Also, because of the pandemic, many schools lost teachers. They left for various reasons: fear of getting sick, being fed up with the ridicule, the pay and benefits, and the biggest reason I’m aware of, was simply to stay home because they could not find child care for their own children since teachers in ECE had left in droves.

Child care is a big industry, not only in N.J. but across the country. Many people need to go to work, and with children, child care is a necessity. However, many families struggle to pay for it. I have seen costs as high as $2000 a month for infants–that is a mortgage payment!  Many people also live in “child care deserts,” which are areas where there are not enough child care spaces for the number of children in the community. This forces people to look at their finances and consider whether it is more feasible for one parent to stay at home with the child(ren), or to continue working. But how many people work to pay for child care? I am sure that number is high.

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It is an evil circle: the teachers need to get paid a livable wage and not suffer financially, but centers need to charge their clients more to make that happen. If more subsidies were available to more families, that would be a game changer.  With more financial help, families would have the opportunity to continue working, or finally return to work, while being able to provide their children access to the strong foundation of early learning that is crucial for them.

ECE teachers are a great asset to their communities and without them, the future of tomorrow’s children would be quite bleak. I hope my Senators and Representatives of N.J. see this article, understand the very real issues that exist in the field, and make decisions in support of ECE to make N.J. better for all–staff, teachers, parents, and especially children. Together, we can make a difference as we work towards building the best foundation for our children and their families. Together, with a sustainable system in place for ECE, we can solidify the future of not just N.J., but of the entire country!

Please support early childhood education!

Read ACNJ’s FY2025 Budget Testimony

Posted on March 20, 2024


TO: Members of the Senate Budget Committee

FROM: Shadaya Bennett, Senior Legislative Analyst, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

DATE: March 19, 2024

RE: SFY25 Budget

Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the Fiscal Year 2025 State Budget.
ACNJ commends the Administration and the Legislature for continued investments in programs that benefit New Jersey’s children and families. From the state child tax credit, investment in the pre-K through 12 system, funding for programs that mitigate food insecurity amongst children, and support for the statewide home visiting program and other maternal health initiatives – we can all agree that New Jersey remains steadfast in its commitment to investing in the development and success of our youngest residents.
While our values are reflected in policy provisions aimed at making New Jersey the best place to have and raise a child, it is crucial to continue building on these efforts by strategically investing in key initiatives to benefit current and future generations.

Child care: New Jersey’s child care system is in a long-standing crisis which can be characterized by a lack of accessibility, staffing shortages, and affordability challenges. These factors make access to affordable child care more difficult, which hinders parents’ participation in the workforce, increases financial strain on families, and, most importantly, limits children's access to early care and education. To combat these issues, strengthen the system, and ensure children and families have access to quality options – we request the Legislature’s consideration in prioritizing investments in the child care infrastructure with a specific focus on supporting the workforce.

Most child care providers
generate just enough revenue to keep pace with minimum wage.

This limits what they
can offer staff and often discourages qualified individuals from remaining in the field.

Governor Murphy’s proposed budget includes $3.6 million toward wages for child care providers. Provider subsidy payments will also continue to be based on enrollment, not attendance, through the end of 2024. Although these measures are steps in the right direction, additional investments are essential to stabilize the system long-term. We also recognize that sustaining the child care system requires efforts at both the federal and state levels.
Most child care providers generate just enough revenue to keep pace with minimum wage. This limits what they can offer staff and often discourages qualified individuals from remaining in or entering the field. The average child care worker in New Jersey makes about $32,000/yr. which are poverty wages in our state. Inadequate salaries and benefits hinder recruitment and retention efforts. Additionally, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 25 percent of early education professionals say their economic situation has worsened within the last year and 42 percent say they are more burned out than they were this time last year. Worsening economic conditions and increased burnout among early education professionals contribute to high turnover rates and staffing shortages which compromise quality. Ultimately, the consequences of this issue extend to children, families, and our economy.
Child care providers and early education professionals not only nurture and educate infants and toddlers, they also play a crucial role in New Jersey’s economic ecosystem. Without this essential service which extends beyond traditional school hours and days, parents, most often women, are unable to engage in the workforce. Without a functioning workforce, businesses struggle to operate which impacts the overall economy. Therefore, whether or not we agree with the means, the end remains the same – child care is everyone’s business.
We urge you to prioritize investment in the child care infrastructure and support its workforce – to promote quality early care and education, support working families, and ensure a prosperous future for our children.

ACNJ would also like to highlight several critical investments in the proposed budget which we hope are supported in the final SFY25 budget:
Child Tax Credit: ACNJ fully supports the continuation of the state child tax. This is an essential investment in the wellbeing of New Jersey children and families which helps to reduce the burden of poverty. By providing direct financial relief to families, the child tax credit helps offset costs ensuring that children's basic needs are met. The provision of additional income also assists families with the purchase of essential household items and other needs, including child care.
Preschool Expansion: ACNJ is pleased to see continued investment in early education through preschool expansion efforts. A strong early care and education system that includes high-quality preschool provides young children with the educational foundation they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond. The proposed SFY25 budget includes $124 million in preschool aid to expand access to free preschool for additional 3- and 4-year olds and support existing programs.
Food Insecurity and Nutrition Assistance: ACNJ commends the Administration and the Legislature for prioritizing programs that address food insecurity and support nutrition assistance. These supports will impact children and families who do not have access to sufficient food and assist low-income families. The proposed SFY25 budget allocates $30 million to expand access to free school meals, extending coverage to children in families earning under 225 percent of the federal poverty level. Additionally, the proposed budget includes $2.8 million in State funding for the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Program and continued funding support for minimum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
Healthcare and Family Services: ACNJ is pleased to see continued investment in maternal and children’s health. These initiatives ensure children and families have access to healthcare and related supports which promotes overall well-being through consistent preventive care. The Governor’s proposed budget includes funding for the Statewide Universal Newborn Home Nurse Visitation Program including $4 million to expand Family Connects NJ to additional counties. Additionally, we commend investments in expanding healthcare coverage to more children through the Cover All Kids program and increased access to mental health supports through the NJ Statewide Student Support Services Network.