A child’s first lesson in preschool is how to share: too many kids with not enough toys, markers, or teachers to go around. Unfortunately, that sharing doesn’t always end up being fair, and that inequitable distribution of learning resources also plays out on the much bigger scale of early education as a whole.
A recent Department of Health and Human Services analysis uncovers that, while the childcare and preschool workforce has become increasingly professionalized over the years—most educators in center-based programs now hold college degrees—they still generally earn less than a living wage. This systematic under-investment has real consequences for underprivileged children, who grow up without a firm developmental foundation: “Children who attend high-quality preschool are less likely to be retained in their grade, are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, and be employed than those who have not attended high-quality preschool programs.”
According to new research by The Century Foundation (TCF), childcare workers averaged about $10.70 an hour last year; that’s maybe less than the price of a kid’s fast-food lunch, or less than a fast-food worker’s hourly pay. Compared with gold-plated private daycare programs enjoyed by the privileged, preschool for the poor is a zero-sum game of trying to “enrich” young minds through impoverished programs.
One recently certified preschool educator in California wrote to federal education authorities:
I have been offered $10.02 up to $10.20 per hour. I am faced with the stress of trying to pay back my student loans and take care of my family. I just hope someday that our profession will be taken seriously and paid to reflect the service that we give.
Though Pre-Kindergarten is not provided universally across districts, many programs are receiving more government funding and acquiring more rigorous pedagogical standards. Still, “Without a baseline of a living wage and appropriate compensation for the additional years of education,” TCF concludes, “such requirements may actually act as a deterrent to entering and staying in the field.”
According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California–Berkeley, even at so-called five-star rated programs, nearly 40 percent of teachers surveyed worried about not having adequate food.