Every year, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) publishes a national report on state-funded preschool programs, tracking enrollment, spending, and policies that support quality learning.
The 2018 State of Preschool Yearbook, released earlier this week and supported by the Foundation’s Education program, is the only report of its kind that helps educators, advocates, researchers, and policymakers understand how funding levels affect preschool access and program quality. This year’s report also includes a deep examination of preschool teacher compensation.
At the national level, the 2018 Yearbook finds that state spending per child has decreased, when adjusted for inflation, and that most states fail to compensate pre-K teachers with a living wage. Even fewer states compensate teachers comparably to K-3 teachers.
Inadequate teacher compensation undermines classroom quality because it creates instability in the workforce. Research indicates that teachers who are paid poverty wages have less formal preparation than counterparts who are compensated fairly. They also experience high levels of stress as a result of economic insecurity. Additionally, low compensation increases teacher turnover, as staff leave their teaching positions to seek jobs that pay a living wage. All of these factors affect instructional practice and, thus, have ramifications for overall program quality.
In California, while pre-k enrollment and funding have increased compared to the previous year, it has not kept pace with other states on quality improvement efforts. This is illustrated by the fact that the California State Preschool Program (SPP) only met 6 of the 10 NIEER quality benchmarks, while the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program met only 2 of the 10.
With regard to California’s preschool teaching workforce, TK requires compensation and preparation on par with K-3 teachers: TK teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, and have salary and benefit parity with the California’s early elementary teaching workforce. This is a bright spot in the findings, despite the fact that it does not extend to the SPP or other early childhood settings in the state.