Preschool Teacher Salaries

Preschool teachers spend their days with the youngest learners as they learn, play, and discover. Pursue a career in early childhood education (ECE) and you’ll enjoy a front row seat to these little minds as they’re introduced to formal learning, socializing with their peers, and navigating the world away from home—what’s not to love?

Few can deny that being part of an environment that nurtures, supports, and prepares the earliest learners for a lifetime of learning comes with an exceptionally high level of satisfaction and fulfillment. But satisfaction and fulfillment don’t pay the bills, so you must take into consideration your earning potential as a preschool teacher.

You’ve probably heard the sobering news that pre-K teachers earn far less than their K-3 counterparts. It’s true—the ECE field has been historically low-paying, with many preschool teachers and other early childhood educators lagging far behind their K-3 colleagues in terms of wages, despite countless studies that have shown that children with access to early childhood education enjoy profound, lifelong advantages.

For example, a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that children who attended high-quality ECE programs were less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to receive special education services, and more likely to graduate from high school than their peers without access to ECE programs. With an emphasis on “high-quality” preschool programs, many states now require pre-K teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. But still low wages persist.

In fact, stagnant salaries that fall well below K-3 educators have become a common theme in the ECE field for decades.

But don’t go running for the hills just yet. Change is in the air, and it looks promising. A growing demand for high-quality ECE programs and the preschool teachers who create and implement them have inspired many policymakers and private preschool programs to rethink the value of these early childhood educators and how they’re compensated.

Keep reading for an insider’s look at the current challenges in the ECE field, along with the positive changes taking place when it comes to the paychecks of the nation’s preschool teachers. There may be no better time to start practicing your sunshine hands and crisscross applesauce legs because there’s a preschool rug waiting just for you.

Examining the Issue of Pay Parity Among Preschool Teachers

“Pay parity” has become one of the biggest terms used when comparing the salaries of early childhood educators with their K-3 colleagues. While education and certification requirements for pre-K teachers have gradually aligned with kindergarten and elementary school teachers, salaries have not.

According to May 2019 stats by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for preschool teachers in the U.S. was $30,520, while kindergarten teachers earned an average salary of $56,850 during this time.

But at the same time, the majority of preschool teachers now hold a bachelor’s degree, putting their qualifications in line with their K-3 colleagues. A January 2020 report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that as of 2018, 78% of all state-funded public preschool programs, 56% of state-funded private preschool programs, and 75% of state-funded preschool programs that serve both public and private settings required teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certification.

But as of 2018, most states have no pay parity policies in place for ECE teachers in state-funded public preschools, and it’s nearly non-existent in private preschools.

For example, while 25 states require all pre-K teachers to hold a BA and teaching certification (28 require a BA but no teaching certification), only Hawaii, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island require equal starting salaries and salary schedules between preschool and K-3 teachers.

2017-18 NIEER stats reveal some of the states with the largest pay disparities between pre-K (lead pre-K teachers) and K-3 teachers, according to average salary:

  • California CSPP
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $81,126
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $30,000
    • Pay disparity: $51,126
  • Colorado
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $52,389
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $30,500
    • Pay disparity: $21,889
  • Connecticut SR
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $73,113
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $57,774
    • Pay disparity: $15,339
  • Florida
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $47,721
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $24,336
    • Pay disparity: $23,385
  • Georgia
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $56,329
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $38,461
    • Pay disparity: $17,868
  • Maryland
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $69,61
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $45,147
    • Pay disparity: $24,614
  • Michigan
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $62,702
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $42,081
    • Pay disparity: $20,621

But not all is lost. A number of states come out strong when it comes to pay parity between Pre-K and K-3 teachers, and in Washington D.C., Kentucky, and Virginia, pre-K teachers even pull ahead of their K-3 colleagues:

  • Washington D.C.
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $60,483
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $86,898
  • Kentucky
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $52,952
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $53,450
  • Rhode Island
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $66,758
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $68,000
  • Virginia
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $51,265
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $56,861
  • West Virginia
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $45,642
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $42,163
  • Maine
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $51,663
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $51,180
  • South Carolina
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $51,027
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $49,442
  • Texas
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $53,167
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $52,025
  • Oklahoma
    • Public elementary teacher average salary: $45,678
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $44,921

That’s not all…there’s a clear trend toward pay parity throughout the country, with many states/regions recently making big moves toward aligning pre-K teacher salaries with public school teacher salaries:

  • In October 2019, the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care voted to commit another $20 million toward improved ECE programming and higher salaries for teachers and staff.
  • California’s AB 123, the Preschool for All Bill, expands access to full-day preschool for all four-year-olds in the state while at the same time increasing state reimbursement rates by 23%; at least 65% of this additional funding will go towards raising teacher and staff salaries, with the goal of achieving pay parity with elementary teachers in their school district. In some cases, this will more than double the salary of state preschool teachers.
  • Unionized preschool teachers in New York City, who serve more than 68,000 children across all of NYC’s five boroughs, will see pay raises, thanks to a July 2019 agreement that calls for salaries among those with a bachelor’s degree to increase up to $48,000 a year and those with a master’s degree to increase up to $53,000 a year, with rates rising annually until reaching full salary equality by 2021.

Private Vs. Public Salaries for Preschool Teachers

Private or public? In the world of ECE, the environment in which you teach will largely dictate your earning power. It’s no secret that public pre-K programs pay the most, while private programs typically pay less due to a lack of outside funding.

Sure enough, May 2019 BLS stats show that pre-K teachers in elementary and secondary school settings (funded through federal, state, and local government) earned the highest mean salary, at $48,840. The lowest earners were—you guessed it—preschool teachers in private programs that also provided daycare (e.g., KinderCare, the Goddard School), where they earned a mean salary of just $30,940 during this time.

Preschool teachers in other settings earned the following mean salaries during this time:

  • Religious settings (church preschool programs): $38,090 – funded through tuition
  • Social advocacy organizations (e.g., Head Start): $35,120 – federally funded program that also receives state grants
  • Civic and social organizations (e.g., YMCA): $34,170 – funded through federal grants, membership fees, and tuition

In some states, the difference in salaries between the state’s public and private pre-K teachers is negligible; in other states, the disparity in pay can be $10,000 or more annually. The following states reported the highest disparities in pay between public and private pre-K teachers, according to NIEER 2017-18 stats:

  • Arkansas
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $40,193
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $27,279
    • Pay disparity: $12,914
  • Connecticut SR
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $57,774
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $36,638
    • Pay disparity: $21,136
  • Iowa Shared Visions
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $52,608
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $34,457
    • Pay disparity: $18,151
  • Mississippi
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $39,000
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $20,259
    • Pay disparity: $18,741
  • Rhode Island
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $68,000
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $56,000
    • Pay disparity: $12,000
  • Vermont
    • Public pre-K teacher average salary: $47,000
    • Private pre-K teacher average salary: $29,000
    • Pay disparity: $18,000

But before you rule out private programs and make a beeline for those public pre-K programs, consider the benefits of working in a private setting. Many pre-K teachers enjoy teaching in private programs because of smaller classes and more flexibility to design and implement programs instead of following strict state or federal guidelines. For some pre-K teachers, a more enjoyable work environment wins over the bigger paycheck.

How Far Does Your Dollar Go? Examining Cost of Living Differences in Pre-K Teacher Salaries

Your earning power as an ECE teacher ultimately depends on where you live, and regional and state salaries have a tendency to swing wildly. Cross state lines (or even city/county lines) and you could see your earning power increase or decrease by $10,000-$20,000 or more because of cost of living differences.

Cost of living includes everything from the median cost of a house to the price of a gallon of gasoline or a gallon of milk, and its serves as a realistic indicator of how far your dollar will stretch. For example, it’s a whole lot easier to live comfortably on $40,000 a year in Jackson, Mississippi, than it is Miami, Florida, thanks to lower prices on everything from apartment rentals to grocery shopping trips.

At face value alone, New Jersey ($43,360), Connecticut ($43,080), New York ($42,330), Hawaii ($42,160), and Washington D.C. ($42,160) come out as clear leaders for their average preschool teacher salaries, according to the BLS. But factor in the cost-of-living adjustment and states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Ohio pull ahead when it comes to the highest salaries for preschool teachers.

Use this Cost Of Living Calculator by CNNMoney to see how far your paycheck will go based on the city and state. For example, a salary of $30,000 in Pittsburgh, PA, is the same as a salary of $43,317 in Los Angeles, CA, while a salary of $40,000 in Atlanta, GA, is comparable to a salary of $63,198 in Washington D.C.

Preschool Teacher Salaries, by State

The national average salary for preschool teachers was $30,520 in May 2019, with the top 10% in the field earning an average salary of $55,050.

Check out the latest BLS state average salaries for preschool teachers (at the 50th and 90th percentiles) to see where your state stacks up:

  • Alabama: $21,390 – $37,680 (approximately 4,050 preschool teachers)
  • Alaska: $31,500 – $52,450 (approximately 1,110 preschool teachers)
  • Arizona: $28,850 – $46,090 (approximately 8,180 preschool teachers)
  • Arkansas: $29,830 – $48,940 (approximately 3,690 preschool teachers)
  • California: $35,000 – $53,720 (approximately 53,290 preschool teachers)
  • Colorado: $31,720 – $48,740 (approximately 6,650 preschool teachers)
  • Connecticut: $36,310 – $74,340 (approximately 6,510 preschool teachers)
  • Delaware: $26,240 – $37,240 (approximately 2,010 preschool teachers)
  • District of Columbia: $38,070 – $60,580 (approximately 1,770 preschool teachers)
  • Florida: $25,110 – $42,830 (approximately 31,060 preschool teachers)
  • Georgia: $29,230 – $51,450 (approximately 11,920 preschool teachers)
  • Hawaii: $40,270 – $57,720 (approximately 1,600 preschool teachers)
  • Idaho: $23,960 – $36,510 (approximately 1,370 preschool teachers)
  • Illinois: $29,720 – $48,090 (approximately 25,030 preschool teachers)
  • Indiana: $26,700 – $38,730 (approximately 6,460 preschool teachers)
  • Iowa: $26,780 – $40,180 (approximately 4,970 preschool teachers)
  • Kansas: $29,280 – $48,560 (approximately 2,210 preschool teachers)
  • Kentucky: $29,990 – $58,120 (approximately 3,930 preschool teachers)
  • Louisiana: $26,840 – $42,270 (approximately 1,520 preschool teachers)
  • Maine: $35,950 – $50,350 (approximately 1,850 preschool teachers)
  • Maryland: $31,880 – $68,610 (approximately 9,880 preschool teachers)
  • Massachusetts: $36,500 – $62,300 (approximately 17,070 preschool teachers)
  • Michigan: $30,980 – $56,150 (approximately 9,940 preschool teachers)
  • Minnesota: $36,320 – $59,350 (approximately 9,180 preschool teachers)
  • Mississippi: $29,960 – $45,340 (approximately 2,460 preschool teachers)
  • Missouri: $28,660 – $44,880 (approximately 5,920 preschool teachers)
  • Montana: $29,960 – $49,420 (approximately 770 preschool teachers)
  • Nebraska: $35,590 – $61,310 (approximately 1,890 preschool teachers)
  • Nevada: $27,580 – $54,290 (approximately 1,790 preschool teachers)
  • New Hampshire: $30,020 – $39,880 (approximately 3,200 preschool teachers)
  • New Jersey: $36,100 – $75,500 (approximately 16,420 preschool teachers)
  • New Mexico: $28,420 – $54,830 (approximately 2,910 preschool teachers)
  • New York: $37,160 – $66,970 (approximately 23,890 preschool teachers)
  • North Carolina: $26,680 – $40,700 (approximately 15,350 preschool teachers)
  • North Dakota: $26,520 – $39,340 (approximately 910 preschool teachers)
  • Ohio: $27,170 – $45,490 (approximately 15,430 preschool teachers)
  • Oklahoma: $25,870 – $48,320 (approximately 7,210 preschool teachers)
  • Oregon: $29,950 – $42,910 (approximately 6,540 preschool teachers)
  • Pennsylvania: $29,030 – $44,570 (approximately 14,400 preschool teachers)
  • Rhode Island: $28,700 – $40,430 (approximately 1,540 preschool teachers)
  • South Carolina: $22,990 – $51,500 (approximately 5,560 preschool teachers)
  • South Dakota: $29,600 – $42,100 (approximately 1,620 preschool teachers)
  • Tennessee $27,980 – $53,950 (approximately 6,420 preschool teachers)
  • Texas: $30,030 – $62,040 (approximately 33,810 preschool teachers)
  • Utah: $27,550 – $39,460 (approximately 2,100 preschool teachers)
  • Vermont: $34,290 – $50,270 (approximately 1,040 preschool teachers)
  • Virginia: $33,080 – $62,930 (approximately 10,360 preschool teachers)
  • Washington: $33,190 – $45,730 (approximately 11,610 preschool teachers)
  • West Virginia: $25,540 – $49,610 (approximately 1,810 preschool teachers)
  • Wisconsin: $25,440 – $37,480 (approximately 10,260 preschool teachers)
  • Wyoming: $27,600 – $54,840 (approximately 860 preschool teachers)

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which preschool teachers work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

All salary and employment data accessed August 2020.

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