President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Build Back Better spending bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, but the bill's universal pre-K plan is going to directly create the need for at least 40,000 new teachers, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
There are already shortages for quality educators and making preschool available for 6 million more children could be cumbersome.
"We don't really have a pipeline of early childhood educators who are sitting idle," Georgetown University's Chad Aldeman told CNN. "If the federal dollars boost up pre-K enrollment overall, that could lead to a hiring crunch, potentially leading to shortages and a surge of novice and uncertified teachers, especially in low-income communities."
To enroll 70% of 3- and 4-year-olds, the U.S. needs 40,000 to 50,000 new classrooms with at least one teacher per classroom (and an assistant), according to an NIEER fact sheet.
"Over 10 years, this would be no more than 5,000 new teachers per year. A larger problem is that about half the teachers of the 5 million children currently enrolled need some additional education to complete a BA degree with specialized training in early childhood, about 125,000 teachers," says the fact sheet.
"Given adequate supports, current teachers could increase their qualifications and receive the higher pay and benefits they deserve. This would be transformative not just for ECE quality but for the lives of the workforce themselves, and New Jersey has demonstrated this can be done within five years."
The group noted more than 540,000 preschool teachers (some serving children under age 3) and 22,000 preschool special education teachers were employed in 2019.
That sector of eduction has long been underpaid and experienced turnover and departures, but a new influx of government cash could bring them back to meet the demand, NIEER reported.
NIEER estimates a full day cost for a pre-K education might be $12,500 per child per year and about $70 billion annually to serve 70% of 3- and 4-year-olds.
"This is more than a $50 billion increase over current public funding," according to NIEER. "Limiting additional public funding to those under 200% of the federal poverty level, would lower annual cost by about $10 billion. Of course, quality programs cannot be created overnight, program expansion will take time, perhaps 10-20 years to fully provide high quality UPK across the entire nation.
"That means cost would climb gradually toward these estimated levels over time. Finally, if some parents preferred part-day programs the cost would be less but this percentage is likely to be small."
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