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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Head Start Exceeds Requirement That Half of Teachers Earn BA in Early Childhood

Published:  May 9, 2013

According to recent budget documents from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Head Start program has surpassed a statutory requirement that half of Head Start teachers have bachelor’s degrees in early childhood by September 30, 2013. In fact, according to the Department, 62 percent of teachers had earned the degree by fiscal year 2012.

(Previously, we erroneously reported the figure as 44 percent. We had failed to recognize that 44 percent refers to all Head Start teachers – including those in Early Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs – who now have bachelor’s degrees. The larger, 62 percent figure reflects only Head Start preschool teachers (those teaching 3, 4 and 5 year olds) with bachelor’s degrees.  The requirement that half of teachers earn the bachelor’s degree applies only to those Head Start teachers and not to other Head Start programs.)

The figure shows impressive improvement in bachelor’s degree attainment since a 2009 Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) report found that 50 percent of Head Start teachers had earned the four-year degree. That means four years before the requirement, Head Start programs were already meeting the requirement set forth in the 2007 Head Start reauthorization.

And the rapid adoption of the new Head Start requirement is especially surprising given that the average annual salary for a full-time preschool teacher with a bachelor’s degree in a Head Start center is only about $30,000, according to the same budget documents. That’s substantially below the average first-year K-12 teacher salary of $39,000, although it still exceeds the average salary for a teacher with an associate’s degree – just under $25,000.

The increasing numbers of Head Start teachers with bachelor’s degrees led us to ask whether the higher salaries are contributing to the increasing costs of Head Start, too. From 2011 to 2012, even though funding for the Head Start program increased, the number of children enrolled dropped slightly, and per-child funding rose from $7,453 in 2011 to $7,611 in 2012. The next year, the same thing happened, and funding rose to $7,763 per child. We wonder if the cost of educating each child is rising because more teachers are earning bachelor’s degrees, and therefore are better compensated.

For more on the president’s budget request and the accompanying budget documentation, check out our other coverage and our “key questions” on the request. For more on Head Start, read our issue brief, Reforming Head Start. We apologize for our earlier misreporting of the Head Start teacher qualifications data, and urge you to check out the data yourself here.


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