Biden’s plan would raise salaries for Head Start teachers but could leave fewer spots for kids

Nov 21, 2023, 9:10 PM

Teacher Dawn Hill works with children during a preschool class at the Life Learning Center - Head S...

Teacher Dawn Hill works with children during a preschool class at the Life Learning Center - Head Start, in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. A new plan from the Biden administration could significantly increase salaries for hundreds of low-paid early childhood teachers caring for the country's poorest children but might also force some centers to cut enrollment. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new plan from the Biden administration could significantly increase salaries for thousands of low-paid early childhood teachers caring for the country’s poorest children but might force some centers to reduce their enrollment.

The Health and Human Services agency’s proposed federal rule would require Head Start programs, which are struggling nationwide with staffing shortages, to raise teachers’ salaries to put them on par with local public schoolteachers, and to beef up benefits. The requirement could raise wages by as much as $10,000 for Head Start teachers over the next seven years, the agency estimates.

“Early educators make poverty wages in many places,” said Anna Markowitz, a University of California Los Angeles professor who has studied Head Start turnover and wages. “There are real consequences to these low wages.” She said “it’s unfortunate we had to wait for the turnover to become a major crisis.”

Head Start teachers, many of whom are required to have a bachelor’s degree, make about $39,000 a year on average — far less than educators with similar credentials. Head Start teacher turnover has doubled over the last decade, with the federal government estimating 1 out of every 5 Head Start teachers left their classroom last year.

That’s created problems for the country’s youngest learners: Waitlists are ballooning and classrooms are closing. As many as 275,000 infants, toddlers and preschoolers are on waitlists nationwide, according to the National Head Start Association. The federally funded program is designed to give free education and care to infants, toddlers and preschoolers in locally run classrooms situated in public schools, community centers and private daycares or preschools. Taxpayers spend about $12 billion for Head Start to serve roughly 1 million children.

The number of kids in classrooms could shrink, though, if teacher salaries are raised and Congress doesn’t grant more money for the program. Biden asked Congress for an additional $1 billion for Head Start this year.

“As a result of these necessary reforms, one potential impact could be a reduction in Head Start slots in some programs in order to ensure the quality of services delivered,” the rule says.

In Cincinnati, Head Start should be able to help nearly 2,000 students but right now just over 1,500 kids are in classrooms because of staffing shortages, said Renee Daniel, vice president for early childhood education at the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency.

Daniel was “jumping up and down” when she read the administration’s proposal to raise wages and add heartier benefits for Head Start staff. But without additional federal money, she would have to permanently cut as many as 800 seats to pay for those increases.

“Right now we’re suffering, and we’re not serving the children anyway, because we don’t have the staff,” Daniel said.

Daniel said in recent years, teachers have left to work in the health care sector or at Amazon. Daniel recently raised teacher salaries to start at $21 an hour. But to match local public school teacher salaries, pay will need to be about $33 per hour. The rule also suggests adding retirement benefits to teacher compensation, a new perk she’d have to offer.

“How am I going to create parity with that, if I don’t get any new money?” she asked. Daniel said she plans to weigh in on the proposed rule, with the federal government accepting comments on the plan until Jan. 19.

Health and Human Services is counting on Congress to provide additional money to Head Start, which is why it’s giving programs until 2031 to fully up their salaries to match local teacher pay. The administration also believes the program can “maintain its current capacity” with the wage increases, Katie Hamm, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Early Childhood Development, said in an email.

“The proposed changes are necessary to stabilize the Head Start program, which is facing a severe workforce shortage because staff can earn higher wages from other employers,” Hamm said.

If Head Start programs do raise their wages, their jobs could become coveted in communities where daycare workers and early childhood educators are meagerly paid, said Markowitz, the UCLA researcher. The average median wage for childcare workers sat at $13.71 per hour in May 2022, falling behind average pay for retail or food and beverage workers.

“It’s definitely going to have impacts throughout the sector,” Markowitz said. “Ideally, it’s going to be part of a broader sea change where child care educators are compensated at a fair level.”

National News

Associated Press

6 people killed, 10 others injured in Idaho when pickup crashes into passenger van

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Six people were killed Saturday in Idaho in a two-car accident that included a large passenger van, authorities said. Ten others were injured in the crash on U.S. Highway 20 in Idaho Falls and taken to local hospitals, Idaho State Police said in a statement. An eastbound pickup crossed the […]

2 hours ago

Image: The headquarters for The Boeing Company can be seen in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 31, 2024...

Associated Press

Police conclude investigation into suicide of Boeing whistleblower

A former manager who raised safety questions about the aircraft maker and, later, was found dead took his own life, police said Friday.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

6 Penn students among 19 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested during attempt to occupy building

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A half-dozen University of Pennsylvania students were among 19 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested during an attempt to occupy a school building, university police said Saturday. Their arrests came a week after authorities broke up a protest encampment on campus and arrested nine students — and as other colleges across the country, anxious to […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

US intelligence suggests American who vanished in Syria in 2017 has died, daughter says she was told

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials have developed specific and highly credible intelligence suggesting that an American citizen who disappeared seven years ago while traveling in Syria has died, the man’s daughter said Saturday. Maryam Kamalmaz said in an interview with The Associated Press that during a meeting in Washington this month with eight senior American […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Hot weather poses new risk as thousands remain without power after deadly Houston storm

HOUSTON (AP) — As the Houston area works to clean up and restore power to hundreds of thousands after deadly storms left at least seven people dead, it will do so amid a smog warning and scorching temperatures that could pose health risks. National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard said on Saturday that highs of […]

19 hours ago

Associated Press

Man shoots his 6-month-old baby multiple times at home near Phoenix, but child expected to survive

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — A man shot his 6-month-old baby multiple times Friday at a home northwest of Phoenix after taking the infant and its mother captive, but the mother escaped with minor injuries and the child was expected to survive, authorities said. They said the status of the suspect remained unknown after a fire […]

23 hours ago

Biden’s plan would raise salaries for Head Start teachers but could leave fewer spots for kids