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Study: Poor Pay, Benefits Threaten Success of AR Preschools

Poor pay and benefits for preschool teachers are seen as a threat to the success of Arkansas' early-education programs. (MonkeyBusiness/AdobeStock)
Poor pay and benefits for preschool teachers are seen as a threat to the success of Arkansas' early-education programs. (MonkeyBusiness/AdobeStock)
April 24, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Even as enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds in Arkansas preschools increased last year, the state cut funding for early education, according to a new report.

The study, by the National Institute for Early Education Research, found the Arkansas preschool program meets eight out of 10 of the group's minimum quality benchmarks, but falls short in two critical areas: salary parity and staff-development support.

Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said that makes teaching preschool in Arkansas a financial hardship for many.

"A study done by the University of Arkansas said that 58% of Arkansas' early-care and education workforce had trouble paying for their basic needs like medical bills, rent, utilities, transportation," he said. "Four out of 10 are reported being food insecure."

Huddleston said only lead teachers in public schools are required to have a bachelor's degree, and the state doesn't require that preschool teachers are paid the same as those who teach kindergarten through third grade. A bill that would have significantly increased state spending for early education failed to pass in the latest session of the Arkansas Legislature.

Huddleston said he thinks the state needs to act sooner rather than later to deal with the pay disparities.

"I think there are warning signs on the horizon now as you're seeing these major changes in the early-childhood workforce, in terms of pay disparities, turnover, high levels of depression," he said. "I think those are issues that we have to address now while quality is still high."

Huddleston said Arkansas was ranked fifth nationally for preschool access for 3-year-olds and 17th for 4-year-olds. He said he thinks maintaining a quality early-learning program is critical to the state's future.

"I think the research is pretty clear that early-childhood experiences are really crucial for growth and development," he said. "Beginning at birth, children's environment and everyday interactions with adults really do shape their physical development, as well as their social-emotional development."

The national report recommended that Arkansas lawmakers put early-education teachers on par with the rest of the state's educators and increase preschool funding to match its growth in enrollment.

The NIEER study is online here, and its Arkansas fact sheet is here.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR