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NIEER Research Spotlights Pay Gaps for Public Pre-K Teachers

New Brunswick, NJ — While most publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs require teachers to have the same credentials as kindergarten teachers, few require equivalent pay and benefits for pre-K teachers compared to kindergarten teachers, according to new research released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Teacher Compensation Parity Policies and State Funded Pre-K Programscompares teacher compensation in state-funded pre-K programs, based on data collected for the 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook.  This report, by NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett Ph.D., and Research Project Coordinator Richard Kasmin, focuses on teachers in public pre-K programs serving about 1.8 million children.  Our report does not cover private preschool programs that are not part of state-funded pre-K.

NIEER’s analysis showed public pre-K programs in 24 states–more than half of the 44 states funding pre-K–have no compensation parity policies for teachers.  Generally, pre-K teachers with a bachelor’s degree or higher can expect to earn $10,000–$13,000 less per year than colleagues teaching slightly older children, even if they work in the same building. Download the report

“Efforts to improve preschool teacher qualifications will largely be in vain until the problem of inadequate compensation and lack of parity with kindergarten and the primary grades is addressed,” Dr. Barnett said.

While research has demonstrated the economic and social benefits of high-quality preschool–improved kindergarten readiness, reduced special education and grade retention–salaries  for pre-K teachers on average continue to lag behind the average salary for public elementary school teachers. Such gaps, combined with increased stress and burnout, can contribute to high turnover rates among prekindergarten teachers, which can lower classroom quality and hamper early learning opportunities for children. NIEER examined policies supporting parity in three areas: salary, benefits, and pay for professional development and planning time. We found policies supported parity across all three areas in 10 states: Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In four additional states, policies supported salary parity only: Georgia, Texas, Rhode Island and Virginia. On average, pre-K teachers in public programs with parity policies earn $5,600 per year more than colleagues in public programs without salary parity.

Yet even these policies fall short in a number of ways. Parity does not always apply to fringe benefits. One state (Georgia) only requires parity in starting salary. In three states, parity policy is limited to teachers in public schools, and a substantial number of teachers are not covered because they are employed by private providers of state-funded pre-K (Iowa, New Mexico, and North Carolina).

Both pre-K lead and assistant teachers in public pre-kindergarten programs in New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Tennessee have compensation parity policy.  Benefits parity policy is provided in 15 states for both public pre-kindergarten lead and assistant teachers.

Responsibility for establishing parity policies varies, due to the mixed state and local governance of public education. For some public pre-K teachers, local school district policies, as distinct from the state, mandate salary parity. Louisiana and Virginia, for example, do not require pay parity for public pre-K teachers, but local school districts do.

“Compensation parity is a critical goal in the pursuit of a well-qualified, stable prekindergarten workforce, especially given the low wages and high demands pre-K teachers face,” said Mr. Kasmin.

Public pre-K programs providing salary parity maintain higher spending per pupil and higher quality standards, based on NIEER State of Preschool quality benchmarks, without sacrificing enrollment compared to states that pay pre-K teachers far less.

“We find evidence that the inclusion of salary parity policy is associated with higher salaries for preschool teachers and higher spending per pupil,” the report states. “Quality and state spending on pre-K are also higher in states with salary parity policies…Moreover, we see no evidence that salary parity and the associated higher earnings for pre-K teachers comes at the expense of coverage, as the share of the four-year-old population enrolled in states with salary parity policy is statistically level with that of states without parity policy.”

This report is one in a series of materials on pre-K compensation parity, developed by the National Institute for Early Education Research and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. The report is generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) conducts academic research to inform policy supporting high-quality, early education for all young children. Such education promotes the physical, cognitive and social development needed for children to succeed in school and later life. NIEER provides independent, research-based analysis and technical assistance to policymakers, journalists, researchers, and educators.

The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) conducts research and policy analysis focused on achieving comprehensive public investments which enable and reward the early childhood workforce to deliver high quality care and education for all children. CSCCE partnered with NIEER on a policy brief on this topic. For more information, contact: Jacqueline Sullivan  [email protected], (510) 604-2289.