Preschool is important. But those tasked with educating the nation's littlest learners are not well-compensated for their efforts.
A new report out from the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows that a majority of voters think early childhood educators deserve more pay. This makes sense given that a survey of preschool teachers also featured in the report reveals that some are struggling to get by.
Early childhood educators earn notoriously little money. A 2014 report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment found that preschool teachers typically only make six dollars more an hour than fast-food workers (with mean hourly wages of $15.11 and $9.07, respectively) -- though early childhood educators are often required to have a bachelor's or associate's degree.
New York state voted in September to gradually raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15. Many employees working in early childhood centers in New York, however, make less than that. An assistant teacher with a bachelor's degree currently earns about $13.94 in the city, reports DNA info.
"If fast food workers deserve $15 per hour, then surely those teaching our most vulnerable children every day deserve significantly more," David Nocenti, Executive Director of the child care network Union Settlement, told the outlet in September.
Eighty-five percent of voters said they think it's "very important" or "extremely important" that early childhood educators are well-compensated. Over 90 percent of surveyed voters also said that they "play a critical role in helping children grow and develop."
The report's survey of early childhood educators paints a portrait of a group that is eager to serve. Over 90 percent of surveyed teachers said a love of children motivated them to go into education. However, teachers who have lower household incomes (less than $30,000) are less likely to say that they will stick with the profession. Indeed, over 50 percent of early childhood educators said that finding a job with sufficient salary and benefits was a major obstacle. Eighty-four percent of preschool teachers said that low pay is a big challenge facing their profession.
“I love working with children and their families. It is so rewarding to go to work every day and help set the stage for a child’s future success and well-being,” Eleanor Johnson, lead preschool teacher at Rosemount Center in Washington, D.C., said in a press release for the survey. “While there is a lot of passion in the field, there is also a lot of anxiety around the low pay and benefits and what it means for our future.”
Of course, it's not like elementary or high school teachers are exactly raking in the dough, either. Last year, President Barack Obama pointed out that the top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all the country's kindergarten teachers combined.
A 2014 survey from HuffPost/YouGov found that most Americans think public school teachers are generally under-appreciated and underpaid.