Pay parity issues that have long plagued New York City’s early childhood education workforce have contributed to significant turnover and staffing shortages at many child care centers operated by community-based organizations, according to a new report from the Day Care Council of New York and the City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus.
New York City’s sprawling free preschool system is composed of a patchwork of programs, including some run by the city Department of Education and others run by community-based organizations, which are privately-run and publicly-funded. The report, which was published Tuesday afternoon, focuses specifically on the striking pay inequities between teachers in the city’s community-run preschool programs and teachers in unionized public schools. About 60% of the children in the city’s free prekindergarten programs are enrolled in a center run by a community based organization, according to Chalkbeat New York.
According to the report, a certified early childhood educator working at a community-based organization may earn just 53% of what a similarly experienced teacher earns at a public school – a chasm that generally only widens over the course of that individual’s career. Over 25 years, a certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree can expect to lose over $690,000 if they decide to remain committed to a community-based organization instead of a public school.
In 2019, city leaders agreed to boost pay for teachers with associate and master’s degrees at community organizations to around $61,000 and $69,000, respectively, by fall 2021. That brought their salaries up to the same amount public school teachers earn in their first year. While the 2019 agreement was heralded as a big achievement at the time, gaps remain today. The agreement effectively means that many veteran teachers working at community-based organizations are earning the same amount as brand new teachers at city-run public schools. The agreement also largely left out many early childhood education staff in non-teaching roles.
These pay disparities have had wide-ranging effects on the early childhood educator sector, pushing many employees to seek work elsewhere. Nearly 52% of community-based programs report that their newly-recruited teachers leave the site within five years. It’s also a matter of equity, since women of color comprise the vast majority of workers in the early childhood education sector.
“The teachers, staff, and directors at community-based early childhood centers remain underpaid through a legacy of discriminatory policies that devalue the work of women, particularly women of color,” the report states, adding that “many of the lowest-paid child care staff earn wages less than they would if they transitioned to working in the fast food or retail industries.”
The report urges the city to strike a new agreement during this year’s upcoming collective bargaining negotiation for a labor contract that advances parity between community-based organizations’ workforce and their public school counterparts.
"Closing the wage gap between CBOs and the DOE is not just about fairness; it's about recognizing the value of every educator and professional who contributes to our children's education,” City Council Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph said in a statement. “By allowing this gap to persist, our city is effectively telling early childcare educators – many of whom are women of color, that they are disposable and that is simply not true and must stop!”