The U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services has released a report that reveals a considerable gap in pay for early education teachers and the impact that such a pay gap has on schools' ability to recruit and retain experienced, quality teachers.
Preschool is a critical stage in a young person's education. It helps develops their learning and socialization skills, and educators and analysts see the expansion of preschool as a necessary part to expanding educational equity and opportunity. Moreover, taxpayers receive a high average return on investments in high-quality early childhood education. Thus, early childhood education programs must have the means to attract qualified and strong educators.
"Undervaluing nation's early childhood educators flies in the face of what we know about brain development and the optimal time for learning. Educating children before kindergarten requires significant knowledge, expertise, and skill — especially in light of the critical importance of the early years for children's growth, development, and future academic and life success," said U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. "This report is a call to action for all of us."
A new report finds that early education teachers – 97% of whom are women – are being paid far less than teachers working with higher grade levels. The national median annual wage for preschool teachers is $28,570, whereas the median pay for kindergarten teachers is $51,640 and $54,890 for elementary school teachers.
Additionally, the report finds that pay for early education has remained stagnant, the education and training requirements have increased for such positions. Early learning caregivers with a Bachelor's degree earn nearly half the average earnings of individuals with a Bachelor's degree overall. Thus, teachers with the same level of education and experience have markedly different earnings depending on what level students they teach.
The report finds only two states that have a roughly equal disparity between wages for preschool and kindergarten teachers (Louisiana and Oklahoma), whereas in 6 states (Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin), preschool teachers earn annual wages less than the poverty threshold ($24,036).
Furthermore, in the 42 states and the District of Columbia that are now operating state preschool programs, only four states require salary parity for teachers across all settings: Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Another eight require salary parity for teachers working in preschool programs located in public schools: Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas.
The report concludes by hailing President Obama's Preschool for All initiative – a $75 billion investment over ten years – that aims to buttress the work of states in expanding and raising the quality of preschool. The money would be used to improve outcomes for young children by expanding preschool programs and by bolstering preschool teachers' salary to comparable levels with their K-12 counterparts. It also calls for policymakers to double down on these investments.
"The quality of any early care and learning setting is directly related to the quality of the staff, their education and training and understanding of child development and the ability to translate that understanding through effective practice," said Linda Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development, Administration for Children and Families. "Wage parity across settings is critical to attracting and retaining a high-quality workforce, essential for a high-quality program."
For interested readers, the full fact sheet is available online.