Report: Community preschool teachers paid half as much as public school teachers

Over the course of a 25-year career, educators working in privately-run preschool programs could make $690,000 less than public school teachers.

Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez speaks during a press conference by the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus highlighting the pay disparities in early childhood education.

Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez speaks during a press conference by the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus highlighting the pay disparities in early childhood education. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

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!”