North Carolina K-12 teachers have received a lot of attention lately, and that's leaving early-childhood educators to feel a bit left out.
While teachers inch up the pay scales, most North Carolina childcare workers take in less than $10 per hour, and most preschool teachers earn less than $13 per hour, according to the Early Childhood Workforce Index, published by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley.
"Early educators' skills, knowledge, and well-being are inseparable from the quality of children's early learning experiences," the study's authors wrote. "Yet our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequitable."
Early childhood education can help end the poverty cycle, yet those in the childcare workforce often struggle with poverty themselves.
"Inadequate levels of public financing and heavy reliance on families to cover the costs of early care and education services render professional pay for early educators unattainable," according to the authors.
In North Carolina, the median wage for childcare workers is $9.86, or 59 percent of the median wage for all occupations in the state. For preschool teachers, the median wage is $12.44, still just 74 percent of the state median for all jobs.
However, those figures stack up well against other states. When adjusted for cost of living, North Carolina early-childhood educators earn more than their peers in 34 states and D.C. Lea Austin, one of the report's co-authors, praised North Carolina for the support and training programs available to these educators.
"This has been limited, so it's not that every teacher in North Carolina has access to these funds or scholarships necessarily. But they have been a model for other states," she said.
But the pay has led to high turnover. Paula Gales is a preschool teacher at Bennett College, but she said she is leaving to teach kindergarten.
"With my master's degree in education, I will make at least $8,000 to $10,000 more than I did as an early childhood educator," she said. "Just by teaching one age-group higher. That is something to think about."