Much has been written about the woefully low compensation of early childhood teachers, those working in both centers and home-based settings. National and state workforce studies report hourly wages of less than $11, with few benefits such as fully funded health insurance or retirement. These low wages are often seen as the reason for high turnover and workforce instability.
A number of states are implementing strategies to try to partially address this issue. Such strategies include direct wage supplements tied to education, professional development scholarships with compensation incentives, tax credits for early childhood teachers, and wage parity requirements built into state-funded pre-K standards or within the state’s Quality Rating Improvement System. Some states and cities are also targeting efforts to increase minimum wage as a way to address the problem. Each of these strategies has both advantages and disadvantages.
The challenge states face is the competition between increasing access for children in need of early care and education and building high-quality programs for young children, where teachers are well educated and compensated. Higher payment rates for both child care assistance and for pre-K are often seen as the answer. Yet without a mandate for dollars to specifically go to teacher compensation, in a diverse delivery system, increased rates do not always mean better salaries.
The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center has been developing strategies to address early childhood education, compensation and workforce stability for many years. Its two largest national efforts, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarships and Child Care WAGE$® supplements each raise compensation about 8% a year for participants. Both initiatives are systemic strategies that serve as policy drivers at the state and local levels resulting in increased funding for early childhood workforce needs, increased awareness of workforce needs and more responsive workforce support and education systems. While these efforts have not solved the compensation conundrum, they have given teachers a real career pathway that allows them to increase both their education and compensation, while staying in the field.