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As Preschool Programs Expand, Teacher Pay Under Scrutiny

Early education workers have been paid low wages for years, but as public programs grow, the issue is increasingly on reporters' radar.

A September 23 story on the hyper-local news site DNAinfo, introduced us to a preschool teacher who said she'd be living in a shelter if she wasn't able to live with her mother.

"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 Union Settlement, which runs seven early-childhood centers in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood, told DNAinfo.

That was the tack NPR took too, with its provocatively titled July story "What Do We Value More: Young Kids or Fast Food?" NPRed blogger Anya Kamentz based her piece on a study out this summer by the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Child Care Employment that showed early-education providers are paid between $8.63 and $20.99 per hour.

Andra Cernavskis of The Hechinger Report featured the same study in her recent profile of a Head Start teacher trying to make ends meet in San Francisco on wages that only marginally exceed the amount her students' families earn. (Full disclosure, I work at The Hechinger Report and helped edit Andra's story.)

"People don't see the value in early education or the hard work we do every day," Maria Alicia Lemus, told Hechinger.

And the solution is not straightforward. Many child-care providers don't have the advanced degrees that public schools are likely to require as they add preschool programs in cities and states across the country. So while pay will rise for workers who can snag jobs at traditional schools, there is likely to remain a private sector early-education economy that continues to pay barely adequate wages.

I'd be curious to hear more about what's happening in places where $15 minimum wage campaigns are happening or where public school-based preschool programs are expanding. Have a great local story on early-educator wages? Email me, and maybe I'll feature it here.

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