Policy Brief/Analysis

NIEER Pre-K Data Snapshot

Lead Teacher Workforce–Qualifications, Pay and Parity

Second in a series of policy briefs addressing specific topics based on State of Preschool yearbook data.

Teachers are a strong direct determinant of preschool program quality, and state pre-k program polices influence who becomes and stays a teacher as well as the competencies they acquire. This fact sheet reviews state policies regarding lead teacher qualifications, compensation, and professional development.

Each policy is important, but the constellation of such policies for each state pre-K program also matters because these policies are interrelated. For example, high qualifications requirements without adequate pay is unlikely to yield a highly capable work force; and similarly, the amount of support for professional development and planning time can affect teacher capabilities, morale, and performance for even the best paid, most highly qualified teachers.

The 2016 State of Preschool survey obtained information on policies regarding required teacher qualifications, compensation (including salary, fringe benefits, vacation time, and sick days), and paid time for planning and/or professional development. For each of these policies, the survey asked if there was parity with elementary school teachers for public preschool teachers in both public school and private providers.

As seen in Table 1, state-funded pre-k teachers are far from parity. Just 35 of 60 programs required all lead teachers to have a four-year college degree. Many more (52 programs) required specialized preparation in early childhood.  A small number of states have policies requiring pay parity. Typically, state pay parity policies do appear to raise pre-K teacher salaries substantially.  Some salary differential may remain for several reasons.  For example, the average pre-K teacher may be younger and lower on the salary schedule because the preschool program has grown to its present size only recently.

In some states, parity policies extend only to pre-K teachers in the public school. This can result from explicit exemption of private programs from these state policies or from school district employee contracts that apply equally to all teachers employed by the public schools regardless of grade level (at least within P-6). Full parity for salary, benefits, and paid time for planning and professional development is much more common for pre-K teachers employed by the public schools.

Actual teacher pay and qualifications can vary from the policy requirements, and some states can report this information (see Table 1).  As noted earlier, teacher parity policy does not guarantee that average salary is equal.  Pre-k teachers may be paid less because they have less seniority, on average. Pre-k teachers in the public schools may be paid equally even when there is no state policy for parity.  In states that do not require a BA, the percentage of teachers with a BA varies from a high of 98 percent (Virginia) to a low of 13 percent (Florida). Clearly, in some states the cost of requiring a BA (and perhaps issuing waivers for a few teachers to recognize special circumstances) would be extremely low. In other states, the cost would be substantial, especially those in which many teachers do not have even a two-year degree.

The State of Preschool survey also allows us to examine change in state parity policies, at least from 2015-16 to 2016-17.  State policy seems to be moving in the right direction. Compared to 2015, more programs report having policies in place to support teacher compensation parity.  Every qualification or compensation policy tracked had an increase in the number of programs reporting that qualification or policy over 2015.

The Authors

Allison Friedman-Krauss is an Assistant Research Professor at NIEER where she is also the Associate Director for Policy Research and Director of the Infant and Toddler Policy Research Center.