Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Too many preschool teachers are paid less than other teachers of young children.

“…on average, a public pre-K teacher with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn around $12,000 less than a public kindergarten teacher with similar credentials, according to NIEER’s 2015 State of Preschool Yearbook,” a statistic NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) has on its webpage.

And outside of the public school system, in private, community-based preschools, salaries are even lower, so these programs lose teachers to public schools. So the children in private, community settings lose access to skilled teachers just as they’re getting ready to go to elementary school.

Two new policy briefs tackle these issues, documenting “the extent of the compensation parity issue among public pre-K programs and identify programs providing parity…”

The briefs are the results of a collaboration between NIEER and the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.

The first brief — “In Pursuit of Pre-K Parity: A Proposed Framework for Understanding and Advancing Policy and Practice,” by Marcy Whitebook and Caitlin McLean – notes:

“Many pre-K teachers across the nation are expected to earn a bachelor’s degree, similar to their peers teaching older children. Yet salaries and benefits remain consistently lower for pre-K teachers than for elementary school teachers.”

What does equal pay mean?

“Compensation parity is defined as parity with K-3 teachers for salary and benefits for equivalent levels of education and experience, prorated to reflect differences in hours of work in private settings where applicable, and including payment for non-child contact hours (such as paid time for planning).”

Among the brief’s findings:

• “Only Tennessee has compensation parity policies that apply to all pre-K lead and assistant teachers, but their pre-K program is delivered via public schools only;

• Ten states have compensation parity policies that include salary, benefits, and payment for professional responsibilities, at least for lead pre-K teachers in public schools;

• Eighteen states have policies in place with the goal of meeting salary parity, but only 14 states have policies that meet our criteria of salary parity, with equivalent starting salary and salary schedule, prorated.” These 14 states include Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia – but not Massachusetts.

Other observations include:

• some states have built compensation parity “into their initial program design”

• some states “are engaged in reforming their programs to address compensation in a new way”

• states are pursuing “different mechanisms to shape compensation, turning to legislation, regulatory guidance, or contractual obligation”

• in some cases, “funding has allowed programs to approach parity without specific policy or regulatory guidance”

• compensation parity has also gained traction in some states “as a result of pressure from unions representing pre-K teachers.”

The second brief – “Teacher Compensation Parity Policies and State Funded Pre-K Programs,” by W. Steven Barnett & Richard Kasmin – focuses on states that are trying to equalize the salaries of preschool teachers and teachers of “slightly older children in public elementary schools.”

This brief points to some of the benefits of equalizing teachers’ pay, noting, “Salary parity policies show, or even require, a commitment to investing more in pre-K. Spending per pupil for pre-K relative to K-12 and state spending on pre-K relative to total state government spending are higher in parity states.”

The brief adds: “Although the difference is not statistically significant, programs with salary parity policies have higher quality standards generally.”

Among the brief’s findings:

• “only four states (New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Tennessee) have full compensation parity for lead and assistant teachers across all three components of compensation. Even for these states, some policies are extended only to teachers working in public settings…”

• “Six other states (Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma) provide full compensation parity but only for lead teachers.”

• “For a number of other states, there is a mix of policies with regard to level of compensation improvement and component of compensation.”

• 24 states, which is more than half of the 44 states running pre-K programs, “report having no compensation parity policies.” Unfortunately, Massachusetts falls into this category.

• “the inclusion of salary parity policy is associated with higher salaries for preschool teachers and higher spending per pupil… 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.”

As NIEER says on its webpage, “clearly, more needs to be done to make pre-K teacher compensation commensurate with the skills needed to perform this highly demanding and important work.”

Advocates, early educators, and parents can help inform policymakers about the many benefits of equalizing teachers’ pay. This will help create a stronger educational pipeline that prepares younger children for lifelong success.