Pre-Kindergarten teachers are the reason children of all backgrounds across Georgia are better prepared to start school and begin the journey to postsecondary study and the workforce. You wouldn’t guess the critical role they play if you peeked at their paystubs. They earn less than teachers who work in elementary and secondary schools, often far less.
Pre-K classes are staffed by two teachers, a lead teacher and an assistant teacher. Their salaries are funded by the state. Lead teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. The ones who gain certification to teach will earn from $30,062 to $33,402 in the 2014-2015 school year. Non-certified lead teachers with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field will earn from $21,813 to $24,236.
This pay is below what teachers in K-12 schools will earn in the upcoming school year. A new teacher with a bachelor’s degree and professional certification will earn a minimum of $33,424. Teachers in K-12 schools earn more as they gain experience and if they earn an advanced degree. Pre-K teachers will not. This leads to significant disparities in pay. A K-12 teacher with four years experience and a master’s degree will earn $40,779 in the upcoming school year. A Pre-K teacher with the same level of experience and education will earn no more than $33,402, a 22 percent gap. The gap grows with each year of additional experience, providing a strong incentive for Pre-K teachers to move to higher grade levels even if they prefer working with Pre-Kindergarteners and are skilled at working with them.
Assistant teachers must have a postsecondary credential and they are even worse off than their colleagues in the Pre-K classroom. They will earn $13,334 for the 2014-2015 school year. This is barely above poverty level for those who are single and do not have children. It is below poverty for those who are raising children on their own. It is also less than what janitors and fast food cooks earn.
The Department of Early Care and Learning, which oversees the pre-k program, recently announced that Pre-K teachers can earn one-time bonuses for reaching additional levels of education. The bonuses range from $1,200 to $2,500, funded with money from a federal grant. Teachers who earn bonuses will be glad to get them, but it’s not enough to correct the chronic underpayment of people who teach children in Pre-K classrooms across Georgia.
A lead Pre-K teacher in a south Georgia school district recently told me she didn’t go into teaching to make money, but she does need to pay her bills. That’s been harder and harder to do in the last few years, she said. Teaching Pre-K shouldn’t jeopardize a person’s financial security. Georgia’s legislators should make sure it doesn’t and increase Pre-K teacher salaries.