In 2019, national median wages for early educators ranged from $11.65 per hour (or $24,232 full-time per year) to $14.67 per hour (or $30,514 full-time per year), see Early Educator Pay & Economic Insecurity. Many early educators are quite literally receiving poverty-level wages: the federal poverty threshold for a family of four in 2019 was $25,750.1Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Education (ASPE) (n.d.). 2019 Poverty Guidelines. Washington, DC: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://aspe.hhs.gov/2019-poverty-guidelines. At the same time that wages paid to early educators overall are low, disparities linked to funding source, ages of children, and racial discrimination cause greater harm to certain populations within this workforce. These disparities translate into even lower pay, especially for Black women and educators who work with infants and toddlers, who are paid thousands of dollars less than their peers each year.2Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L.J.E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early Childhood Workforce Index – 2018. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from http://cscce.berkeley.edu/topic/early-childhood-workforce-index/2018/; Austin, L.J.E., Edwards, B., Chávez, R., & Whitebook, M. (2019). Racial Wage Gaps in Early Education Employment. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/racial-wage-gaps-in-early-education-employment/.
The pandemic has greatly intensified the economic insecurity of early educators, forcing many to place their financial well-being ahead of their physical well-being. Unlike public schools, when child care programs close, most early educators have no guarantee that they will continue to be paid. For family child care providers in particular, a loss of income to pay themselves and their business expenses may also mean the inability to pay their rent or mortgage, which is doubly distressing because they operate their businesses from their homes.
And yet, even as many providers try to keep their doors open, the combination of higher costs to meet safety protocols and lower revenues because fewer children are enrolled is leading to job losses and program closures. Many of these closures and layoffs are expected to become permanent.3NAEYC (2020). Holding On Until Help Comes: A Survey Reveals Child Care’s Fight to Survive. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/our-work/public-policy-advocacy/holding_on_until_help_comes.survey_analysis_july_2020.pdf. Over the course of the first eight months of the pandemic, 166,000 jobs in the child care industry were lost. As of October 2020, the industry was only 83 percent as large as it was in February, before the pandemic began.4CSCCE calculation of women employees in the “child day care services industry” between February 2020 and August 2020, see Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Data Viewer: Women employees, thousands, child day care services, seasonally adjusted. Retrieved from https://beta.bls.gov/dataViewer/view/timeseries/CES6562440010.
In order to stabilize the early care and education sector, make sustainable progress on appropriate compensation for all early educators, and make teaching young children an attractive career, there must be a reckoning with the inadequacy of current levels of public funding. Estimates vary on the level of public investment needed to reform the system, but all estimates confirm that substantial increases are necessary, especially in order to provide fair compensation to early educators (see Financial Resources for state-level estimates developed by CSCCE and the Economic Policy Institute). Furthermore, increased funding must be accompanied by explicit policies and mechanisms designed to raise compensation and to do so fairly — through wage and benefit schedules, for example — in order to undo the wage gaps that characterize today’s system.
Appropriate compensation for early educators means that:
- At a minimum, all those working with young children should earn at least the locally assessed living wage;
- Wages should additionally account for job role, experience, and education, with educators compensated fairly for the work they are already doing;
- Wage levels should calibrate upward from a living wage as the starting point to full parity with similarly qualified elementary school teachers; and
- Wage standards should apply whether educators are working in center or home-based programs.
“Child care teachers need to be paid more. We are living at or below the poverty line…. We are teaching our future generation, and we can’t even make enough to live comfortably.”Minnesota5Quote from CSCCE survey of teachers. For more information about the study, see Austin, L.J.E., Whitebook, M., Schlieber, M., & Phillip, G. (2019). Teachers’ Voices: Work Environment Conditions That Impact Teacher Practice and Program Quality – Minnesota. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/teachers-voices-minnesota-2018/.
Some states (such as Alabama) and several cities have been leading the way, ensuring that teachers in publicly funded pre-K classrooms are paid on par with K-3 teachers.6CityHealth & the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) (n.d.). Pre-K in American Cities. CityHealth and the National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from https://www.cityhealth.org/prek-in-american-cities/; McLean, C., Dichter, H., & Whitebook, M. (2017). Strategies in Pursuit of Pre-K Teacher Compensation Parity: Lessons From Seven States and Cities. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley & New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Strategies-in-Pursuit-of-Pre-K.pdf. Yet much more must be done to ensure appropriate wages for educators in all early care and education classrooms, regardless of the age of the child or the setting. Efforts in New York City have been moving in this direction, extending wage increases to early educators in Head Start programs and community-based centers, regardless of the age of the child served.7Parrott, J.A. (2020). The Road to and from Salary Parity in New York City: Nonprofits and Collective Bargaining in Early Childhood Education. New York, NY: Center for New York City Affairs, The New School. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ee4f0be4b015b9c3690d84/t/5e222c2ab457e7527ddc6450/1579297836053/SalaryParity_Parrott_Jan2020_Jan17.pdf. As an interim step, many states have provided financial relief in the form of stipends, tax credits, or bonuses, which provide some additional income for low-paid early educators but do not fundamentally change the amount of their paycheck.
“Economically, it is very difficult to work in this field. I struggle to get by and live paycheck to paycheck. I have to work a second job in order to barely make ends meet. Emotionally, this job has taken a huge toll on my body.”California8Quote from CSCCE survey of teachers. For more information about the study, see Schlieber, M., Whitebook, M., Austin, L.J.E. Hankey, A., & Duke, M. (2019). Teachers’ Voices: Work Environment Conditions That Impact Teacher Practice and Program Quality — Marin County. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/teachers-voices-work-environment-conditions-that-impact-teacher-practice-and-program-quality-marin-county/.
In addition to wages, compensation includes an array of benefits, such as health insurance, paid sick leave, and retirement contributions. These benefits are standard in many fields but are not consistently available across ECE settings. Due to limited data, we could not assess state policy efforts to improve benefits in the Index. For information on the inclusion of staff benefits in the standards of quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS) for programs, see Work Environment Standards. For information on which states collect data on wages and benefits for the ECE workforce in their state, see Workforce Data.
“What’s in a Name?” — A Glossary of Key Compensation Terms
Words like “compensation,” “parity,” and “living wage” have been gaining traction in early care and education circles, but there are different interpretations of what they mean. Here’s a short guide to help bring clarity to the debate.
- Compensation: “A term used to encompass the entire range of wages and benefits, both current and deferred, that employees receive in return for their work,” as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.6Bureau of Labor Statistics. Glossary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm#C.
- Living Wage: Typically refers to a minimum threshold for affording basic necessities, which varies by household type and local cost of living. A living wage calculator for various geographies has been developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).7Living Wage Calculator. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from https://livingwage.mit.edu/.
- Compensation Parity: The state or condition of being equal, especially regarding status or pay. In current ECE debates, it typically refers to comparability between early educator pay and K-3 teacher pay.8Whitebook, M. & McLean, C. (2017). In Pursuit of Pre-K Parity: A Proposed Framework for Understanding and Advancing Policy and Practice. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley & New Brunswick, NJ: The National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/in-pursuit-of-pre-k-parity.pdf.
- Compensation Strategy/Initiatives: Initiatives that increase workers’ base annual salaries or hourly wages and/or provide benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans.
- Financial Relief Strategy/Initiatives: Initiatives that provide additional income or financial relief outside a worker’s pay and benefits (compensation), based on eligibility, such as stipends or tax credits.
- Stipend: As used in the Index, a stipend refers to a supplemental or non-wage cash award that an educator may receive more than once (e.g., every six months or every year), often intended to support retention.
- Bonus: As used in the Index, a bonus refers to a cash award provided as a one-off recognition of a particular educational achievement (such as completion of a degree or credential).
For more information on the differences between compensation strategies, financial relief strategies, and educational support strategies, see From Unlivable Wages to Just Pay for Early Educators.9McLean, C., Whitebook, M., & Roh, E. (2019). From Unlivable Wages to Just Pay for Early Educators. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/from-unlivable-wages-to-just-pay-for-early-educators/.
Overview of State Progress on Compensation & Financial Relief
- Stalled: 42 states
- Edging Forward: 9 states
- Making Headway: 0 states
Between 2018 and 2020, there was a net improvement as four states improved their assessment by making strides in one or more compensation and financial relief indicators: Alabama, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island advanced from stalled to edging forward. Meanwhile, two other states moved down in their assessments: Nebraska and New Mexico moved from edging forward to stalled.
Overall, the majority of states (42) remain in the stalled category, having not implemented substantial compensation strategies or financial relief measures in their early care and education workforce policies, while a total of nine states are edging forward. As in 2018, no states are rated as making headway.
Compensation & Financial Relief: A Key to State Assessments
|Compensation & Financial Relief||Values & Partial Points||Maximum Point|
|Compensation: Salary parity for publicly funded pre-K teachers?||Parity (all)||3||3|
|Partial parity or sub-parity (all)||1|
|Compensation: Required standards (outside pre-K)?||Yes/No||3|
|Compensation: Standards guidelines or plans (outside pre-K)?||Guidelines: Yes/No||2||2|
|Plans only: Yes/No||1|
|Compensation: Earmarks for salaries in public funding (outside pre-K)?||Yes/No||1|
|Financial relief: Stipend or tax credit?||Yes/No||2|
|Financial relief: Bonus?||Yes/No||1|
|0-4 points per category||Stalled|
|5-8 points per category||Edging Forward|
|9-12 points per category||Making Headway|
Map of State Progress on Compensation & Financial Relief, 2020
State Progress on Compensation & Financial Relief, 2018 & 2020
State Progress on Compensation & Financial Relief per Indicator, 2018 & 2020
Indicator 1: Does the state require salary parity for publicly funded pre-K teachers?
Rationale: An appropriate benchmark for determining early childhood educator compensation standards is parity with K-3 teachers, recognizing that early education and care requires just as much skill and training as teaching older children in the birth-to-age-eight continuum.9Institute of Medicine (IOM) & National Research Council (NRC) (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/catalog/19401/transforming-the-workforce-for-children-birth-through-age-8-a. Do states require the same starting salary and salary schedule, prorated, for pre-K teachers as for K-3 teachers, and does this parity apply to publicly funded pre-K teachers in all types of settings and all pre-K programs in the state? While we have focused on whether states meet the criteria for salary parity — both starting salary and salary schedule — parity in benefits and payment for professional responsibilities are aspects of parity that also require attention but are not part of the current assessment (see Table 3.10).
Current Status Across States: As of the 2018-2019 school year, just six states met these criteria for pre-K salary parity in all settings/programs (Alabama, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island), while another 18 required salary parity for some pre-K teachers (e.g., in public schools only or only in some of their pre-K programs, if the state had more than one). An additional three states (Alaska, Minnesota, Missouri) met the criteria for partial or sub-parity, at least for some pre-K teachers. Six states do not have state pre-K programs assessed by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), so no data were available for these states (Idaho, Indiana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming).10Friedman-Krauss, A.H., Barnett, W.S., Garver, K.A., Hodges, K.S., Weisenfeld, G.G. & Gardiner, B.A. (2020). The State of Preschool 2019: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from http://nieer.org/state-preschool-yearbooks/2019-2. Although not assessed in the Index, individual cities have also been moving forward with implementing their own pre-K programs, and some (e.g., New York City, San Antonio) have actively addressed compensation parity.11CityHealth & NIEER (n.d.); McLean, C., Dichter, H., & Whitebook, M. (2017). Strategies in Pursuit of Pre-K Teacher Compensation Parity: Lessons From Seven States and Cities. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley and New Brunswick, NJ: the National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Strategies-in-Pursuit-of-Pre-K.pdf.
Change Over Time: The number of states that met the criteria for pre-K salary parity in all settings/programs doubled from three to six between 2018 and 2020. Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, and Rhode Island were added, while Tennessee was lost. Compared with 2018, there was a net increase of eight states requiring salary parity for some pre-K teachers only. In some cases, these differences may reflect changes in how state pre-K administrators reported their policies to the NIEER State of Preschool survey, rather than actual changes in the policies themselves.12For example, in California, parity is not in place for teachers in the California State Preschool Program (CSPP), but is in place for California Transitional Kindergarten (TK) teachers; however, TK was not always included in NIEER State of Preschool Yearbooks.
Compensation Parity & Related Forms of Compensation Improvement: A Framework
|Components of Compensation|
|Starting Salary||Salary Schedule22||Benefits||Payment for Professional Responsibilities|
(defined as equivalent)
|Same, prorated for length and number of days||Same, prorated for length and number of days||Same package, same options for coverage for health, retirement, and vacation/holiday/sick leave||Same menu of supports and dosage for non-child contact responsibilities (e.g., planning time, professional development days)|
|Partial Parity (defined as equivalent for select components)||Same, prorated for length and number of days||Not same or absent||Equivalent options for some benefits, but not full package of benefits||Equivalent options for some supports, but not full menu of supports|
|Sub-Parity (defined as similar but not equivalent)||Same, not prorated||Same, not prorated or not same/absent||Same package of benefits, not equivalent value||Same menu of supports, not equivalent value|
|Alternative Forms of Compensation Improvement||Strategies that improve pre-K compensation in order to close the gap with teachers of older children but fall well short of parity. In theory, compensation improvement strategies could also set goals higher than earnings of K-12 teachers in public schools, though in practice this is rare.23|
22 Defined as a scale with clearly differentiated salary increments based on qualifications and years of experience, which provides guidance for salary increases over time.
23 For example, in San Antonio, see Lantigua-Williams, J. (2016, March 8). How San Antonio is Navigating the Tricky Politics of Pre-K. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/san-antoniopre-k/472821/.
Source: Whitebook, M. & McLean, C. (2017). In Pursuit of Pre-K Parity: A Proposed Framework for Understanding and Advancing Policy and Practice. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley & New Brunswick, NJ: The National Institute for Early Education Research.
Indicator 2: Does the state set required compensation standards for ECE settings outside of public pre-K programs?
Rationale: While our parity framework has so far been used to evaluate existing compensation policies for public pre-K programs, there is no reason that it should not be more broadly applied to all early educators of children birth to age five. To the extent that early educators have equivalent education and experience — and many already do — they should be paid equivalently to teachers of older children, regardless of the setting in which they teach.
Current Status Across States: No states set required compensation standards for ECE settings outside of pre-K, including for infant and toddler teachers.
Change Over Time: This indicator has remained unchanged since 2018. However, at the local level, in 2019 New York City established agreements to fund starting salary parity for all certified teachers in community-based ECE settings and to provide raises for unionized, non-certified teachers and other staff by 2021, a positive step forward that could provide a model for the rest of the country.13Parrott, J.A. (2020). The Road to and from Salary Parity in New York City: Nonprofits and Collective Bargaining in Early Childhood Education. New York, NY: Center for New York City Affairs, The New School. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53ee4f0be4b015b9c3690d84/t/5e222c2ab457e7527ddc6450/1579297836053/SalaryParity_Parrott_Jan2020_Jan17.pdf.
Indicator 3: Does the state have plans or guidelines for compensation in ECE settings outside of public pre-K programs?
Rationale: As no states have yet implemented required compensation standards for ECE settings outside of pre-K, an important first step is to articulate these standards.
Current Status Across States: The District of Columbia, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have articulated compensation standards or guidelines for early educators beyond pre-K teachers. Thirteen additional states have convened advisory groups or task forces, or they have made other plans to address this issue.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, five states have progressed to articulating compensation guidelines for early educators beyond pre-K teachers (Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington). Most states remained the same, but six states had plans in 2018 and no longer have plans in 2020 (Delaware, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania).
Indicator 4: Does the state earmark public funding for early educator salaries in settings outside of public pre-K programs?
Rationale: Establishing compensation guidelines and standards is an important step, but states must also direct spending to compensation. Without a specific line item in the budget and sufficient funding to accompany it, compensation can go unaddressed, even when reimbursement rates are raised or program grants are made available.
Current Status Across States: Only three states (Alaska, Massachusetts, and Montana) designated funding specifically for early educator compensation. Massachusetts has a rate reserve for early educator salaries, while Montana’s QRIS requires programs to allocate a portion of their incentive dollars toward the base pay of early educators. In Alaska, a state child care grant provided to child care resource and referral agencies is designated for use in increasing compensation.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, one additional state (Alaska) has met this criteria.
Indicator 5: Is there a statewide stipend or tax credit to supplement early educator pay?
Rationale: To the extent that compensation strategies have not yet been implemented, state leaders should consider introducing financial relief strategies as an interim measure. Stipends include programs that offer cash awards annually or every six months to teachers, typically on graduated supplement scales according to educational level. One such stipend program is Child Care WAGE$, licensed to states by the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center at Child Care Services Association.14T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center (2015). Child Care WAGE$ Overview. Retrieved from http://teachecnationalcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/WAGE-Overview-2015.pdf. Other states have created their own stipend programs, such as REWARD in Wisconsin. Similarly, tax credits supplement wages by providing refundable tax credits annually. Stipends and tax credits may be applied for and received by qualifying teachers, if funds are available, which is not guaranteed.15For example, the Nebraska School Readiness Tax Credit is capped at $5 million per tax year, including tax credits for owners of child care facilities as well as tax credits for staff, see Nebraska Department of Revenue & Nebraska Department of Education (2020). School Readiness Tax Credit Act Notice. Retrieved from https://revenue.nebraska.gov/files/doc/info/School_Readiness_Notice.pdf.
Current Status Across States: Eleven states have a statewide stipend program, such as WAGE$ or something similar, and two states (Louisiana and Nebraska) offer ECE teacher tax credits. Nebraska offers both a stipend (WAGE$) as well as a tax credit, for a total of 12 states with either a stipend or a tax credit program. One state (North Carolina) offers two separate stipend programs: WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®; the latter program was introduced in fall 2018 as a means of addressing low pay for infant-toddler teachers specifically.16Child Care Services Association (2020). Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®. https://www.childcareservices.org/awards/. Although we do not include them in our indicators, some states offer stipends available at the local level or in multiple regions of the state (e.g., Arizona, California, Florida, Texas, Iowa).17Some programs operate in several counties within a state; they are counted as “statewide” in the Index if at least half of counties participate. California has a new statewide grant program for FY2020-2021, the Quality Counts California Workforce Pathways Grant, which can be used locally for stipends, but stipends are not a required component. Local administering agencies have flexibility in whether to use funds for professional development and/or direct stipends. See California Department of Education (2020). Quality Counts California (QCC) Workforce Pathways Grant FY 2020-21. Retrieved from https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fo/r2/qccelcwork2021rfa.asp.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, there has been a decrease in the overall number of states with stipend programs: three states lost stipend programs (Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Utah), while two other states established stipend programs (Nebraska, and Tennessee). Similarly, the same two states have early educator tax credits (Louisiana and Nebraska) in 2020 as in 2018, though bills were introduced between 2018 and 2020 to create such tax credits in a number of states (e.g., Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia).
Indicator 6: Is there a statewide bonus to supplement early educator pay?
Rationale: Like stipends or tax credits, bonuses can provide a measure of financial relief to educators in the absence of wage increases. Bonuses are typically small cash awards that in contrast to stipends/tax credits, are usually provided as a one-off recognition of educational achievement.
Current Status Across States: A total of 32 states offer statewide bonus programs; 23 of these bonus programs are linked to a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship program.18Oregon’s Education Award (bonus) has been discontinued due to lack of funding, but as it processed awards through June 2020, it is being counted for the 2020 Index. Seven states have multiple bonuses (Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Washington).
Change Over Time: Since 2018, Arkansas, Maine, and Oklahoma have added a statewide bonus program.19In addition, New Hampshire will be implementing a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program in 2021, which will include a bonus. Meanwhile, four states that offered a statewide bonus program in 2018 no longer offer it (Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, and New Mexico).