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Preschool Teachers Deserve Better Pay

September 7, 2017
Suzanne Bouffard
US News & World Report

Stephanie Martinez teaches the children of professors at a university-affiliated preschool near Boston. The program is excellent and expensive. Even with a staff discount, Martinez can’t afford to send her own son to the school, because $1,000 a month is a major chunk of her income. Instead, she settled for a chain day care center where the quality was so low it was eventually shut down by the state for endangering children.

Her son, who is on the autism spectrum, struggled with behavior through several school transitions until Martinez, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, found him a spot at the East Boston YMCA. In partnership with the Boston Public Schools, the center is implementing a model pre-K program with research-based curricula and well-trained teachers. Martinez got lucky; the program is free for qualifying families, because it was funded by a federal Preschool Expansion Grant. Most families are not so lucky.

About half of early childhood educators in the United States are paid so little they receive public assistance like food stamps and Medicaid, despite working full time. That costs taxpayers $2 billion a year, and it often costs children valuable learning opportunities. Research shows that teachers who face financial hardship are more likely to have elevated levels of depression, which can make them less engaged with children, and those children tend to struggle more in school. Low pay is also a factor discouraging bright, motivated young adults from teaching children in their early years, the critical time when their brains are most pliable. The low pay of early childhood teachers ends up affecting us all.