How some are closing compensation gap for pre-K teachers

A new UC Berkeley report outlines policies where various strategies have been implemented to get closer to or surpass equal pay and benefits for pre-K and teachers of older children. (Photo by Elizabeth del Rocío Camacho.)

In their latest report, researchers at UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment reveal how some states and cities are working to narrow the pay and benefits gap between equally qualified pre-kindergarten teachers and kindergarten and elementary school teachers.

Strategies in Pursuit of Pre-K Teacher Compensation Parity: Lessons from Seven States and Cities notes that this is becoming a more important issue with increased awareness that improving pre-K teacher compensation is essential for recruiting and retaining skilled educators and assuring high-quality pre-K learning environments.

In examining practices and policies in Alabama, Georgia, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia, New York City and San Antonio, the researchers found that having a salary parity policy is associated with higher salaries for preschool teachers and higher spending per pupil. Quality and state spending on pre-K are also higher in states with salary parity policies, while these differences are not statistically significant. They also report that paying more for teachers did not lead to lower access or enrollment. 

“Differences in how programs are funded perpetuate a sharp divide between ‘education’ and ‘care’ services, hampering efforts to reduce inequities in working conditions for early childhood educators,” said Marcy Whitebook, co-author of the report and center director.

Whitebook and her team report that the biggest challenge in terms of closing the compensation gap is moving toward pre-K teacher compensation equity for teachers in private, community-based settings, which account for many pre-K programs nationwide.

And the mix of private and public programs makes things even more complicated. For example, the state of Washington funds the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, in which there is no parity policy for teacher pay. Meanwhile, Seattle created its own Seattle Preschool Program in which teachers are paid on par with Seattle public school teachers.

The center is part of the UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Read the full news release here.