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Policy Briefs

In Pursuit of Pre-K Parity


April 25, 2017
Economics and FinanceState & LocalWorkforce
Marcy Whitbook, Ph.D. and Caitlin McLean, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Child Care Employment

A Proposed Framework for Understanding and Advancing Policy and Perspective 

More than half of all state-funded pre-kindergarten (pre-K) programs now require lead teachers to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, as do many city-funded pre-K programs, yet salaries and benefits for pre-K teachers are consistently lower than the average salary for public school elementary school teachers. While these differences in earnings may reflect variation in experience and educational attainment beyond a four-year degree, on average, a pre-K teacher with a bachelor’s degree or higher can expect to earn about $10,000–$13,000 less per year than her colleagues teaching older children, even when she works in a public school setting. For a similarly educated pre-K teacher working in a community-based program, the earnings gap is even higher: approximately $20,000–$22,000 less per year, accompanied with fewer benefits as well.2 Only a handful of states and cities have policies and practices in place to ensure that pre-K teachers in publicly funded programs, regardless of setting, can expect to earn salaries and benefits and receive payment for professional responsibilities, such as planning, on a par with teachers of children from kindergarten through 3rd grade (K-3).

…Most of the current efforts to improve ECE salaries are concentrated on pre-K teachers, with the goal of equalizing earnings with K-3 teachers, not only for pre-K teachers working in public schools, but also for their counterparts working in community-based pre-K settings. And in a few instances, we rightly see attempts to extend these efforts to teachers working outside the state-funded pre-K system.

At the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), we are heartened by the increasing engagement of stakeholders across the country in efforts to reduce inequities in compensation for early care and education teachers. To facilitate communication and learning across states and communities and among different stakeholders, we have joined together to produce several resources on the subject of compensation parity. In this first brief, we articulate a definition of compensation parity and a common framework for understanding where states and cities currently lie along the path to that goal. This brief also includes highlights from a longer report, Teacher Compensation Parity Policies and State-Funded Pre-K Programs, which provides a detailed description of the current landscape of parity policies based on data collected for the NIEER 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook. Further materials in the series will examine a select group of states and cities in order to advance our understanding of promising practices.