Given the sheer number of preschoolers now enrolled in some kind of early education program, preschool teachers—or more accurately, the need for preschool teachers—is also on the rise. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that a total of 438,200 preschool teachers worked in the U.S.
By 2022, this number is expected to climb to 514,600. Combine this with other early childhood educators, like teaching assistants, and the number climbs to more than 2 million.
Preschool Teacher Salaries: Making a Change for the Better
A number of states are now addressing the compensation gap between preschool teachers and their primary school counterparts. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City has also recently initiated (April 2014) a push for community-based pre-k programs to offer salaries to their preschool teachers that are competitive with pre-k teachers in NYC public schools. The funding for this initiative will come from recently secured state resources.
In New York City, early childhood teachers in community-based organizations earn an average salary of $36,000 to $40,000, while starting salaries for certified faculty members in public schools stands at between $45,000 and $51,000. The announcement established a new pay floor of $44,000 per year for preschool teachers in community-based preschools. Preschool teachers who hold an initial certification and a master’s degree can now expect to earn a minimum of $50,000 per year.
In North Carolina, the Compensation and Education Task Group within the North Carolina Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development developed a salary schedule in 2008 for communities and childcare programs to use as a guide while they worked on improving the compensation of the early childhood workforce. The salary schedule organized starting salaries for preschool teachers based on their overall education/degree.
The highest paid group on the salary schedule, at a starting salary of between $36,400 and $43,492 per year, were those who possessed a master’s degree (M.A., M.S., or M.Ed.) and a North Carolina B-K or preschool add-on license or a Ph.D. or Ed.D. in early childhood education.
Under this salary schedule, preschool teachers in North Carolina who possessed a B.A. or B.S. in early childhood education could expect to earn a salary of between $29,640 and $36,462 per year. Those who possessed a current North Carolina teaching license in early childhood education/preschool could expect to earn even more.
Salary and employment data for preschool teachers across the nation as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013 is shown in the table below:
The Issue of Equality in Pay for Early Childhood Educators
One of the biggest issues involving preschool teachers in the U.S. is the salaries being paid to these early childhood educators. Although there is little debate about the importance of early education for our nation’s children, preschool teachers have, historically, not received comparable compensation to similarly qualified and experienced teachers at the primary or secondary level.
The BLS reported that as of May 2013, preschool teachers earned a median, annual salary of $27,570, with the top 10 percent in the field earning more than $49,660. However, kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the U.S., during the same period, earned a median, annual salary of $50,230, with the top 10 percent in the field earning more than $77,140.
Requirements for preschool teachers are becoming more demanding, with many preschool programs, both public and private, now seeking preschool teachers with a four-year degree in early childhood education.
With a push toward high-quality preschool programs, it is becoming clear that preschool teachers, who in the past often had little more than a high school education or basic training in early childhood care, are now often just as educated as their elementary teacher contemporaries, and are demanding equivalent salaries.
A good example is the federal government’s Head Start program, which now requires at least 50 percent of the teaching staff in its early education programs to possess a bachelor’s degree. In the 2007-08 school year, just 27 percent of Head Start lead teachers held a bachelor’s degree; by 2013, this number had increased to 48 percent, with an additional 11 percent enrolled in a baccalaureate program.
In California, the trend is the same: In 2007, about 40 percent of Head Start teachers held bachelor’s degree; as of 2013, this number had increased to 55 percent. One of the biggest concerns now facing these Head Start programs is that they must compete with K-12 districts, which pay considerably more. Without an increase in teacher salaries, the Head Start programs fear they will soon begin experiencing a high turnover rate.
Currently, the average salary for a California Head Start teacher with a bachelor’s degree is between $30,623 and $34,794, according to the California Head Start Association. For teachers with associate degrees, the salary range is $23,614 to $32,756. However, the average teacher salary for a K-12 teacher in California is $67,448.