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Arkansas State University

Should Early Childcare Workers Be Paid More?

There is an odd disparity between the expectations placed on early childhood learning and the willingness to invest financially in the outcome.

Unfortunately, financial compensation for early childhood educators has changed little in the past 25 years. Even today, according to the U.S. Department of Education, “Preschool teachers are paid less than mail order clerks, tree trimmers and pest control workers. Child care workers make less than hairdressers and janitors.” Despite the fact that they are responsible for the care, education and safety of children, many qualify for public assistance.

This strange gap between responsibility and compensation begs the question asked by The Century Foundation: “At a time when children are most dependent and vulnerable, why are their caretakers and educators compensated so poorly, almost guaranteeing a workforce marked by high turnover and instability?”

Leaders and administrators who manage daycare and preschool facilities must be aware of the arguments on both sides of this difficult situation. They must be fully informed about the daily challenges faced by their staff members, both in and outside of work, while keeping a budget balanced. They have the responsibility to be fiscally aware of the facility’s finances and limitations, while maintaining the role of advocate for all members of the education teams.

So Why Are Early Childcare Workers Paid so Poorly?

Many teachers in the childcare profession believe they are not receiving equitable pay when compared with their elementary and high school counterparts, despite the requirement that they be well-trained, even to the point of earning a degree.

The case can be made, however, that preschool teachers do not have the same responsibilities or oversight as K-12 teachers. In the first place, although committed preschool teachers do keep careful records of student progress and communicate successes and concerns with families, they are not required by law to log and report specific essential skills and understandings, as are public school teachers. They are not held responsible for student progress. Preschool teachers do not prepare complicated report cards or attend data meetings on the same scale required of public school teachers.

Student-Teacher Ratios

The number of teachers required to meet standard student-teacher ratios suggested by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) are two or more times the number of teachers required in public schools. According to the NAEYC, there should be at least one teacher for every 10 students at the pre-school level. In daycare services for infants and toddlers, the number of children to be cared for by a single adult drops from 10 to only three to six. However, a study conducted in 2012 by the National Center for Education Statistics found that class sizes for elementary and high schools averaged from 21 to 27 students. In other words, a preschool must hire at least twice as many teachers for the same number of students as the public schools.

Given these facts, it may appear that daycare and preschool teachers are paid adequately for what they do. Some might disagree, however, citing several reasons, including increasing requirements for caregiver and teacher preparation, the need for quality teacher retention and the impact preschool teachers have on the future of their students.

Increasing Requirements for Caregivers and Preschool Teachers

Licensed daycare facilities must adhere to strict requirements set forth by each state. In many states, the educational, experience and continuing education requirements for administrators and teachers are increasing with each revision of the laws. In Arkansas, for example, the education requirements were increased from 2011 to 2014. The 2014 regulations require that both the director and the assistant director meet strict education and/or experience criteria. This means that each facility must hire not just one but two highly-qualified leaders.

Preschool teachers meet even more stringent education requirements. In the state of Arkansas, there are specific and detailed educational and licensure steps that these educators must take. Yet, in Arkansas, the average yearly pay for a preschool teacher is $30,640, while teachers at the elementary through high school levels average $44,000 — $47,000 per year.

Teacher Retention

A recent study by the Century Foundation states, “Consistent relationships with stable, responsible adults are important for children’s healthy development.” And consistent relationships are those that transcend the school year. Students thrive when they see and interact with “last year’s teacher” on a regular basis, especially those children with special needs or those who experience inconsistent family relationships.

Students are not the only ones who form strong personal bonds. Teachers at all levels, and particularly with the very young, are passionate about their jobs and care deeply for those who depend on them. But, even the most devoted early childhood educators may seek more lucrative careers after experiencing the challenging work for such low pay.

These situations, in which staff members come and go, lead to broken relationships for the students and time-consuming and costly employee searches and training periods.

This argument is also applicable for daycare workers. In 2015, these workers, mostly women and people of color, earned $10.72 an hour. When comparing this pay to that of fast food cooks, who averaged $9.43 an hour and cashiers at $10.10 an hour, those who care for what some call “the most vulnerable” are not adequately compensated for their time or level of responsibility.

Quality Teachers, Quality Futures

According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, “…as scientific understanding of the profound influence of children’s early years on brain development, behavior and learning has grown exponentially, it has become a high-stakes concern to assure that our nation’s ECE settings provide high-quality, enriching experiences for young children.” Providing this high-quality and enriching experience requires that the teachers and care providers are well-trained and well-paid. And those attributes do not come at small expense.

In part, the quality of care and education children receive in the earliest years of development determine their success. In 2014, the homes of 60 percent of families with children were led by two working parents, and there were 2.1 million single working mothers with children under six. When there are this many young children in need of care, it is important to consider the gravity of early childhood experiences. In order to have a positive impact on the lives of children, teachers of the youngest students should receive equitable pay. At a time when children are most dependent and vulnerable, why are their caretakers and educators compensated so poorly, almost guaranteeing a workforce marked by high turnover and instability?

As a graduate student preparing to lead as an administrator in a preschool, you will face compensation issues on both sides of the table. An online Master of Science in Early Education Services degree provides training in not only the educational aspects of preschool services but also the administrative responsibilities you will face regarding fiscal management. After completing this program, you will be well-prepared to address the concerns of all stakeholders, including the issue of teacher and staff compensation.

Learn more about A-State’s Online Master of Science in Early Childhood Services.


nprEd: It Doesn’t Pay to Be an Early-Childhood Teacher

National Association for the Education of Young Children: Teacher-Child Ratios

National Association for the Education of Young Children: Critical Facts About Early Childhood Workforce

U.S. Department of Education: Fact Sheet: Troubling Pay Gap for Early Childhood Teachers

The Century Foundation: Quality Jobs, Quality Child Care

PayScale: Preschool Teacher, (but not Special Education) Salary

SoCal Public Radio: Preschool Teachers Among Lowest Paid Despite Degrees

Center for the Study of Child Care Employment: Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages: The Early Childhood Workforce 25 Years After the National Child Care Staffing Study

National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts — Teacher Trends

Arkansas Department of Human Services: Minimum Licensing Requirements for Child Care Centers Requirements for Early Childhood Education Jobs in Arkansas Research Salaries in Arkansas

Sokanu: Preschool Teacher Salary in Arkansas

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