Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Troubling Pay Gap for Early Childhood Teachers

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released a report today that shines a spotlight on the gap in pay for early education teachers—97 percent of whom are women—and the impact that inequity has on schools' ability to attract and retain experienced, high-quality staff with higher levels of education.

Preschool is a critical means of expanding educational equity and opportunity by giving every child a strong start. Studies show that attending high-quality early education can result in children building a solid foundation for achieving the academic, health, and social outcomes that are of benefit to individual families and to the country as a whole.

Children who attend these programs are more likely to do well in school, find good jobs, and succeed in their careers than those who don't. And research has shown that taxpayers receive a high average return on investments in high-quality early childhood education, with savings in areas like improved educational outcomes, increased labor productivity, and a reduction in crime.

Yet, preschool teachers are paid less than mail order clerks, tree trimmers and pest control workers. Child care workers make less than hairdressers and janitors. In fact, most early childhood educators earn so little that they qualify for public benefits, including for the very programs they teach targeting low-income families.

Report Shines Light on Gaps

The national median annual wage for preschool teachers is $28,570, 55 percent of wages earned by kindergarten teachers ($51,640) and 52 percent of elementary school teachers ($54,890). It is worth noting that the pay for preschool teachers working in elementary school settings may be higher, but it is difficult to differentiate because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separate out the salaries by type of preschool.

The report found that while education and training requirements have increased for early education teachers, workforce pay has not. In fact, early learning caregivers and teachers with a Bachelor's degree earn nearly half the average earnings of individuals with a Bachelor's degree overall. In all states, median annual earnings for the child care workforce would qualify a worker with a family of three for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which equals an income less than $26,124 annually.

Across early learning settings—including child care, Head Start, publicly-funded preschool in community and school-based settings—teachers with the same level of education have markedly different earnings. For example, the report shows that for an individual with a Bachelor's degree, there is a $6.70 per hour difference in median wages between employment in a public school sponsored program compared to a community-based program. That translates to a difference of $13,936 per year.

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