Early educators play a central role in facilitating learning and development among children from birth to age five. However, a gap exists between the knowledge and skill it takes to educate children in their most critical stage of development and the public perceptions and state regulation of requirements for the job. For too long, early educators’ caregiving functions have far overshadowed their significant teaching functions, a misconception that contributes to their skills being dismissed and devalued.
“I am in this field because I am passionate about children…. However, I feel like I am making financial sacrifices in order to remain in the field. I have an M.Ed with a teaching license, but I am not adequately compensated nor are my co-workers. We are working for minimum wage (or less) with degrees, while being responsible for up to 16 preschoolers.”Minnesota1Quote 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/.
In K-12 education, there is a well-established consensus that teachers should obtain at least a bachelor’s degree plus a grade- or subject-specific certification, which is reflected in state teacher licensure requirements. For early care and education, experts also recommend that lead teachers and program administrators acquire degrees and specialization equivalent to those working in elementary schools and that others working with young children, like assistant teachers or aides, attain foundational knowledge, such as a Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential.2Institute 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. However, unlike K-12, these recommendations by and large have yet to be implemented in state requirements for early care and education.
Despite growing recognition that more rigorous and consistent qualifications are needed for early educators, requirements across states remain low and uneven, depending more on the type of setting and funding of programs than on the nature of the work. As a result of these disparate requirements, the qualifications early educators are expected to meet typically have little to do with expert recommendations about what children need and more to do with the type of programs that are accessible to families, which reinforces inequities among children and educators.
The current workforce is not starting from scratch; many early educators already have higher education, even when not required.3Whitebook, M., McLean, C., & Austin, L.J.E. (2016). Early Childhood Workforce Index – 2016. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/Early-Childhood-Workforce-Index-2016.pdf. But it is critical for all children, regardless of their age or where they receive early learning services, to have access to early educators who are equally well prepared. Achieving this goal will require higher and more consistent qualification requirements, as well as multiple pathways for members of the current and future workforce to participate in higher education and advance to leadership positions, including developing a system to account for existing education, training, and experience. Additionally, although not assessed in the Index, it is imperative to ensure that degree programs are intentionally designed to effectively prepare early educators. CSCCE has conducted inventories and assessed early childhood degree programs in more than a dozen states (for more information, see the Early Childhood Higher Education Inventory).4Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (2020). The Early Childhood Higher Education Inventory. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/topic/teacher-preparation-development/higher-education-inventory/.
The current workforce is not starting from scratch; many early educators already have higher education, even when not required.
To promote the conditions early educators need to achieve their educational aspirations and thrive in their degree programs, scholarship programs to support education pathways are necessary for both current and future educators. Educational supports that have been demonstrated to facilitate degree attainment among early educators include: cohort models; flexible class schedules (e.g., classes at night, on weekends); community-located courses; academic counseling specific to early educators; and financial support for tuition, books, and other costs. T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship programs and alternative models linked to college education, like some early childhood apprenticeship programs, include nearly all of these supports as part of their framework.5For more information on T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, see https://teachecnationalcenter.org/. For an extensive look at local apprenticeships in California, see Copeman Petig, A., Chávez, R., & Austin, L.J.E. (2019). Strengthening the Knowledge, Skills, and Professional Identity of Early Educators: The Impact of the California SEIU Early Educator Apprenticeship Program. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from https://cscce.berkeley.edu/strengthening-the-knowledge-skills-and-professional-identity-of-early-educators/; Gardner, M., Melnick, H., Meloy, B., & Barajas, J. (2019). Promising Models for Preparing a Diverse, High-Quality Early Childhood Workforce. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Early_Educator_Preparation_REPORT.pdf. For more information on statewide scholarship and apprenticeship programs, see Appendix Tables 3.2 and 3.3.
Despite their success, scholarship and apprenticeship programs for early educators are typically underfunded and available to only a portion of the workforce, allowing some to advance and potentially have access to higher paying jobs in the sector, while others are shut out of such opportunities. More robust data collection on the workforce as a whole, as well as who has access to which educational support programs and who does not, is imperative to assess whether existing inequities in pay and opportunity are being disrupted or reinforced.
Overview of State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports
- Stalled: 11 states
- Edging Forward: 38 states
- Making Headway: 0 states
- Not Available: 2 states
Between 2018 and 2020, nine states improved their assessment status from stalled to edging forward due to changes in scholarship program indicators (Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Virginia). Specifically, all of these states now collect data on scholarship recipients, whereas in 2018, either the data for this indicator were not available, or the state did not have a confirmed scholarship program, so a question about scholarship recipient data did not apply. Arkansas and Maine added new scholarship programs since 2018. The scholarship program in Montana changed and supports additional educational pathways.In 2018, the scholarship program for Montana, Montana Early Childhood Education: P‐3 and Leadership Financial Assistance Project, offered scholarships for graduate education (MA) and P-3 teacher endorsement. In 2020, the Professional Development Incentive Award program in Montana supports pathways to CDA, AA, BA, some graduate school coursework (MA) and continuing education. Further information on state scholarship programs is explored in State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports: Indicators.
Additionally, two states slipped from edging forward to stalled (Colorado and Utah). Colorado has a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program, but the state no longer provides funding to support the program, so the program no longer counts for our assessment.The Colorado T.E.A.C.H. program relies on philanthropic support. Utah offers scholarships for a Child Development Associate Credential or equivalent and an associate degree, whereas in 2018, their programs also supported attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Kentucky and New Mexico were not assessed in 2020 because we no longer have information for an indicator (whether data on scholarship recipients is collected), which would have resulted in a change in assessment from edging forward in 2018 to stalled in 2020.
Key to State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports
|Qualifications & Educational Supports||Values||Partial Points||Maximum Point|
|Minimum qualification levels (pre-K)||Lead Teacher — BA: Yes/No||1||2|
|Assistant Teacher — CDA/Equivalent or higher: Yes/No||1|
|Minimum qualification levels (licensed centers)||Center Director — BA: Yes/No||1||3|
|Lead Teacher — BA: Yes/No||1|
|Assistant Teacher — CDA/Equivalent or higher: Yes/No||1|
|Minimum qualification levels (licensed home-based)||Lead Teacher — BA: Yes/No||1||2|
|Assistant Teacher — CDA/Equivalent or higher: Yes/No||1|
|Scholarships to support education pathways||BA||1||3|
|CDA or equivalent||1|
|Collects data on scholarship recipients||Yes/No||2||2|
|0-4 points per category||Stalled|
|5-8 points per category||Edging Forward|
|9-12 points per category||Making Headway|
Notes: In this and following tables and charts we include Child Development Associate (CDA) Credentials or their functional equivalent. There is no established consensus on an equivalent to a CDA. Eight semester college credits or 120 clock hours of training were used as the standard for comparing whether other minimum qualification requirements were equivalent to, less than, or exceed the CDA, in line with the Council for Professional Recognition standards, see Council for Professional Recognition (n.d.), CDA Credentialing Program FAQs. Retrieved from https://www.cdacouncil.org/credentials/faqs/apply-for-cda-faqs. A variety of associate and bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education or related fields are offered within and across states. Students pursuing associate degrees may earn an A.A., A.S., A.A.S., or A.A.T., depending on their location, institution, and career goals. Similarly, students pursuing a bachelor’s degree may earn a B.A., B.S., or B.S.Ed. For the sake of brevity, references to associate and bachelor’s degrees in all following tables and charts will use “AA” and “BA” and are inclusive of the various types of degrees offered within a state.
Map of State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports, 2020
State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports, 2018 & 2020
State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports per Indicator, 2018 & 2020 – Minimum Qualifications
State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports per Indicator, 2018 & 2020 – Scholarships
State Progress on Qualifications & Educational Supports: Indicators
Indicator 1: Does the state require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for lead teachers and a minimum of a CDA or equivalent for assistant teachers in public pre-K programs?
Rationale: The 50 states and the District of Columbia each set their own qualification standards for early educators, and those requirements vary widely not only across states, but within states according to setting and source of funding.6Although not addressed in the Index, cities may also set their own qualification requirements, especially for local-level pre-K programs, see CityHealth & 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/. Programs that receive public pre-K funding are typically governed by a distinct (and higher) set of standards compared with programs that are licensed to provide child care; however, this approach maintains a false distinction between early education and care. We assess whether lead teachers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree and assistant teachers a CDA or equivalent, across settings and funding streams.
Current Status Across States: Of the 45 states plus the District of Columbia with public pre-K programs, 24 require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for lead pre-K teachers across all settings and across all programs (for states with more than one state-funded pre-K program).7Friedman-Krauss, A.H., 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 https://nieer.org/state-preschool-yearbooks/2019-2. This is an increase of one compared to the number of states reported in the 2018 Index. An additional 16 states require a bachelor’s for pre-K teachers, but only for certain types of settings within the pre-K system, such as public schools.8Friedman-Krauss et al., 2020. For assistant teachers, 13 states require a minimum of a Child Development Associate Credential or equivalent across all settings and across all programs.9A few states, such as Missouri and New Mexico, require an associate degree for assistant teachers in public pre-K programs; such states also received credit for our indicator for going above the minimum criteria of a CDA or equivalent.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, two additional states with public pre-K programs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for lead pre-K teachers across all programs (Montana and North Dakota, both of which have new pre-K programs since 2018). Alaska met this criteria for all settings in 2018, but no longer requires a bachelor’s degree for lead pre-K teachers across all programs (although this requirement does still stand for lead pre-K teachers employed by public schools). For assistant teachers, Delaware joined other states with public pre-K that require a CDA or equivalent credential for assistant pre-K teachers, whereas two other states with public pre-K programs (Alaska and Oregon) no longer require a CDA or equivalent credential for assistant pre-K teachers across all programs.10Minnesota was misclassified in 2018 and saw no change in 2020: requirements for public pre-K assistant teachers are below a CDA equivalent.
Indicator 2: Does the state set minimum qualification levels for center-based settings outside of publicly funded pre-K at a bachelor’s degree for center directors and teachers and a CDA or equivalent for assistant teachers?
Rationale: Child care licensing rules typically establish lower expectations for early educators working in non-pre-K center-based programs compared with educators working in funded pre-K settings, in stark contrast to research recommendations about what educators need to know to work with children, regardless of age of children or setting. We assess whether qualification requirements meet the same expert recommendations across settings and funding streams (i.e., whether center administrators and lead teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree and assistant teachers, a CDA or equivalent).
Current Status Across States: Only Delaware and the District of Columbia require center directors to have a bachelor’s degree, and no states require lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree in non-pre-K center-based programs. Two states (Hawaii and Minnesota) and the District of Columbia require assistant teachers in such center-based programs to have a CDA or equivalent. Across states, the requirements for center directors and teachers vary substantially, with some states setting no minimum qualification requirements at all (see Figure 3.5 and Appendix Table 3.1).
Change Over Time: Since 2018, key changes in licensing requirements for early educators in center-based programs (outside of public pre-K) took place in one state: Delaware.11The change in New Jersey’s status for indicator 2 was due to our classification, not a change in regulatory requirements in the state. For center directors, Delaware increased from requiring a minimum of an associate degree to a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree. For lead teachers, there was no change; no states require a bachelor’s degree for lead teachers in non-pre-K centers.12The Index focuses on minimum requirements established for all licensed programs. Many states include higher qualification standards in their QRIS, which are required for a program to get a higher quality rating. For assistant teachers, there was no change: two states (Hawaii and Minnesota) and the District of Columbia continue to require assistant teachers to have a CDA or equivalent.13Vermont was also included as having a minimum requirement of a CDA or equivalent in 2018, but this was a misclassification.
Indicator 3: Does the state require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for licensed home-based providers and a minimum of a CDA or equivalent for assistant teachers in home-based programs?
Rationale: Child care licensing rules also often establish lower expectations for early educators in home-based settings compared with educators in center-based settings or in public pre-K. These different standards perpetuate disparities in children’s access to a qualified teacher during their formative years. We assess whether qualification requirements meet the same expert recommendations across settings and funding streams (i.e., whether center administrators and lead teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree, and assistant teachers, a CDA or equivalent).
Current Status Across States: Not a single state requires a bachelor’s degree for home-based providers, and only the District of Columbia and Hawaii14Hawaii’s minimum requirements for assistant teachers in home-based programs changed between 2018 and 2020 from a CDA or equivalent to higher education or training greater than a CDA or equivalent but less than an associate’s degree. require at least a CDA or equivalent for assistant teachers in home-based programs. States are less likely to require any minimum qualifications for teaching staff in home-based programs than in center-based programs (see Figure 3.5. and Appendix Table 3.1).
Change Over Time: Since 2018, there was no change at the indicator level in state education requirements for licensed home-based providers (bachelor’s degree or more); no states met this requirement in 2018 nor in 2020. Similarly, there was no change in which states require a minimum of a CDA or equivalent for assistant teachers in home-based settings: the District of Columbia and Hawaii are still the only states that met this requirement.
Minimum Qualification Requirements in State Licensing, by ECE Role
Indicator 4: Does the state have a scholarship to support educational attainment pathways from a CDA or equivalent to associate and bachelor’s degrees?
Rationale: Academic and financial supports have been demonstrated to facilitate degree attainment among early educators. These supports include cohort models, flexible class schedules (e.g., classes at night, on weekends), and academic counseling, in addition to financial support for tuition, books, and other costs. We assess whether states have scholarship programs to support educational pathways for early childhood educators to achieve foundational knowledge (a Child Development Associate Credential or equivalent) and to achieve higher education (associate and bachelor’s degrees).
Current Status Across States: Forty-seven states have at least one scholarship program for early educators that supports one or more types of education or credentials; 14 states have multiple scholarship programs. Forty states have scholarships that support the attainment of a CDA Credential or equivalent; 45 states have scholarships that support the attainment of an associate degree, and 42 states have scholarships for bachelor’s degrees. Thirty-five states have scholarships for all three levels of educational attainment. Many states’ scholarship programs support additional types of education and credentials such as a master’s degree or director credential. For more information on the types of scholarships included in each state’s programs, see Appendix Table 3.2.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, three states expanded their scholarship programs to include pathways for early educators to achieve bachelor’s degrees (Arizona, New Jersey, Oklahoma), in addition to associate degrees and CDAs. Four states added scholarship programs that support the following pathways for early educators in their state: Arkansas (CDA or equivalent, associate degrees), Maine (associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees), Montana (CDA or equivalent, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees), and Oregon (CDA or equivalent, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees).
State scholarship programs in Kansas and Utah supported pathways to a bachelor’s degree in 2018, but in 2020, the support was limited to an associate degree and a CDA or equivalent. Colorado’s T.E.A.C.H. scholarship program is not included in our 2020 assessment because it is currently supported entirely through philanthropic funding.
Indicator 5: Does a state collect data on scholarship recipients?
Rationale: To ensure equity in access to their scholarship programs, states should collect data on scholarship recipients, their outcomes, and their trajectory in the early childhood field. By collecting this information, states can assess which communities do not have access to scholarships and whether this situation is changing over time, then adapt their outreach and engagement strategies accordingly. Additionally, collecting data on scholarship recipients is important for articulating the level of funds needed to adequately support the ECE workforce, similar to the need for better data on the workforce more generally (see Workforce Data).
Current Status Across States: Forty-one states collect at least some data on their scholarship recipients, but what is collected varies widely.
Change Over Time: Since 2018, nine additional states reported that some data on their scholarship recipients is being collected (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, and Virginia); what is collected varies widely across states. California15California discontinued a program that met Index criteria in 2018 (Career Incentive Grant/Child Development Grant Program); a new program (The Quality Counts California Workforce Pathways Grant) allows local agencies to apply for grants which may be used for the scholarship pathways outlined in the Index but does not require that they be used for those purposes and so is not counted in this edition of the Index. and Colorado reported collecting data on their scholarship recipients in 2018 but did not meet this criteria in 2020 due to changes in their scholarship programs. We do not have data for 2020 to assess whether Kentucky and New Mexico collect data on scholarship recipients.