Biden’s universal pre-K plan could mean need for at least 40,000 new teachers

But if it is passed by Congress as part of a sweeping social safety net bill, a major challenge for implementation hires tens of thousands of new teachers at a time while schools are already struggling to fill existing positions.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 new teachers are needed to enroll only 70% of children aged 3 and 4, according to an estimation from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. This does not include any additional classroom assistants, paraprofessionals, or any other personnel that may be required.
Hiring so many teachers and staff is going to take time. Some states and localities that currently fund some form of public preschool, such as West Virginia and Washington, DC, already have report teacher shortages. The average number of college graduates who completed teacher preparation programs fell 24% between the 2009-10 and 2018-19 academic years, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Additionally, some K-12 districts are struggling to fill vacancies, ranging from teachers to substitutes and bus drivers – a trend that predates the pandemic.

“We don’t really have a pipeline of early childhood educators who sit idle,” said Chad Aldeman, director of policy at Edunomics Lab, a research center at Georgetown University.

“If federal dollars increase pre-K enrollment overall, it could lead to a hiring shortage, potentially leading to shortages and an increase in the number of novice and uncertified teachers, especially in low-income communities. “, he added.

The proposal, which is included in a Democrat-backed $ 1.9 trillion spending bill passing through Congress, attempts to address these long-term quality issues by requiring new preschool teachers to earn a six-year baccalaureate.

The bill aims to enroll more children and improve the quality of pre-K programs. It would also limit overall childcare costs for families with children under 6 to no more than 7% of income for those earning up to 250% of the state’s median income, expanding the access to around 20 million children. Together, the bill would provide $ 381.5 billion for these provisions over six years.

Limits of state-funded pre-K

Pressure from Democrats for universal and affordable pre-kindergarten child care comes as economic effects of coronavirus pandemic continues to hold back some families. In some states, low-income families are eligible for affordable pre-kindergarten programs, but there are large gaps in coverage.

Forty-four states and Washington, DC have state-funded preschool programs, but most do not have a seat available for every 3 and 4 year old.

The programs vary widely. The majority have an income requirement and many do not offer a full day of instruction. Many of the pre-K programs rely on a combination of funding, including federal funds from a program called Head Start.

Nationally, almost 34% of 4-year-olds and around 6% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in a publicly funded program during the 2019-2020 school year. Together, that adds up to over 1.6 million children, which does not include students enrolled in private programs, according to the National Institute for Research in Preschool Education.

“Almost all the problems boil down to the money, which is why this federal approach is likely to work,” said Steven Barnett, co-senior director of the institute.

“But the big challenges will be to develop the workforce and create the infrastructure to support it,” he added.

How long will it take to get universal pre-K?

Universal pre-K is not something that can be built overnight. States will likely be responsible for designing their programs and distributing the federal money – a task that could happen more quickly in places where there is a strong state-funded preschool program. in place.

If the bill becomes law, the federal government will cover the cost of the pre-K programs for the first three years. States would be required to pay part of the cost for the next three years, with the percentage increasing each year until the state pays about 36% of the cost in the sixth year. Bill only provides funding for six years, leaving states fully in charge after that unless Congress reauthorizes more spending in the future.

Every state is unlikely to be able to serve all 3 and 4-year-olds in six years, Barnett said, but added that federal funding would speed up the process even further.

“Without it, I don’t think we would have a universal pre-K in this century,” he said.

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