Let’s Talk Wages


By Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood
Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

For the last few weeks, we’ve been delving into the data in the first brief from the National Survey of Early Care and Education. In a previously blog, I talked about the good news areas of the survey in the first look – educational background of our early care and education workforce, the years of experience and the indication that public investments combined with policy directions have supported these efforts and have made a difference.

What the survey also provided was information on the wide range of salaries. The survey collected wages of center-based teachers and caregivers and found that their salaries were higher among teachers and caregivers for 3 – 5 year olds than infants and toddlers. This was something we thought was the case, and now we have the data to support this. We also know that center based teachers and caregivers with a BA or higher had hourly wages higher than those with AA degrees and some college or high school. That similarly aligns with other occupational studies.

A new piece of information from the study is that who sponsors the program matters in addition to education level. It is clear from the study that school-sponsored center-based programs paid the highest wages at leach level of education. Public pre-K and Head Start programs reported salaries lower than school-sponsored salaries but higher than all other early childhood education.

I want to note here that when I am talking about higher salaries, I am not talking about high salaries! The median hourly wage of center-based teachers and caregivers in school sponsored programs with a BA degree is $20.60. The median hourly wage of Head Start and Public Pre-K BA degree teachers was $15.90 and $16.20 respectively. The report pointed out that the Census data indicate that the average hourly wage across all occupations for workers with a BA degree is about $27.00 an hour. Even our highest paid teachers are behind the average.

The President’s Early Learning Initiative sets the bar high for early care and education teacher training. We anticipate that we will need over 100,000 new early care and education BA degree teachers for the Pre-K For All over 10 years and more than 26,000 new AA degrees for the Early Head Start/Child Care Partnerships. It’s an ambitious and exciting plan, and one that can change the landscape for thousands of young children and families and our early care and education workforce.

This plan is also our strategy for working with our field on our early childhood wage challenges. This plan will provide public financing to raise the education level and the salary level of our public pre-K workforce. When enacted, the plan requires that pre-K teachers be paid salary comparable to the elementary school teachers. Public pre-k will be able to recruit an educated workforce with these higher wages.

As four year olds are served with public pre-K funds, the current Head Start funding will support our birth through three teachers and caregivers, allowing programs to work on raising salaries, benefits and supports for those teachers and caregivers who take care of our youngest, most vulnerable infants and toddlers.

There are lots of reasons to be a fan of the President’s Early Learning Plan. Developing a financing strategy beginning with four year old pre-K teachers that will support an extremely large workforce is just one of them.

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