Studies have consistently shown how valuable a good pre-school education is especially for low-income and dual language learners, and despite some setbacks, policymakers are beginning to take notice. Last year California passed a $2.7 billion universal transitional kindergarten program that will be gradually phased in over the next five years, until it includes all the state’s 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year. But this ambitious and important program is already having problems because there aren’t enough preschool teachers nation-wide, but especially in California. 

Low wages have been driving away early childhood educators since long before the pandemic began, but it has been exacerbated by the rise in wages at other traditional low wage jobs like retail and fast food. In addition, the physical, mental and financial stress pre-school teachers endured during the public health crisis have accelerated the losses. Some teachers have moved to more affordable locations, while others chose early retirement or left for better-paying jobs in other industries. Many even found better paying jobs in elementary schools, which have started raising wages to combat their own teacher shortage, causing a lot of pre-school closures

Some employers, including my own, have discontinued certain efforts to bring employees back into the office because of employee protests and their need for free or low cost programs to care for the young children of their employees. There are 2 million fewer women in the US workforce today than there were at the beginning of the pandemic and a large part of that shrinkage is attributable to issues with child care. 

So, is there any way to bring more teachers back into pre-school teaching? Paying preschool teachers on par with elementary school teachers a good way to start. We could use some of the money from the recently passed Ominbus spending package which includes $2.8 billion in funding increases for core federal early learning and care programs.

And we should be treating them with respect, as the valued professionals that they are. Once we address those problems, we should work on getting universal transitional kindergarten in all states. The National Institute on Early Education Research (NIEER) has an excellent FAQ on the importance of Universal Pre-K

If you are interested in learning more about funding for early childhood education in your state, The Early Childhood database tracks and updates early childhood, care and learning legislation from 2019 through 2022 legislative sessions for all 50 states and the territories.

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