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Published in Print: March 5, 2003, as State Preschool Efforts Vary Across Country, AFT Report Concludes

State Preschool Efforts Vary Across Country, AFT Report Concludes

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States can improve the quality of preschool programs by attracting well- trained and better-paid teachers, the American Federation of Teachers argues in its first report on early-childhood education.

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For the report, "At the Starting Line: Early Childhood Education Programs in the 50 States," released last week, the AFT examined issues of access and quality in statewide preschool programs, as well as kindergarten programs for 5-year-olds. It concludes that low salaries and a lack of benefits make it difficult to attract college-educated teachers to the field.

Forty percent of preschool staff members have only a high school diploma, the AFT found, and turnover rates range from 30 percent to 50 percent annually across the states.

Only eight states and the District of Columbia require all early-childhood teachers to have a bachelor's degree, the report notes. On average, early-childhood teachers earn $17,000 less per year than kindergarten teachers; only eight states pay early-childhood teachers salaries comparable to what the states' K-12 teachers earn.

"Research has shown again and again that highly trained, well-compensated staff is a key predictor of program quality and positive outcomes for children," Sandra Feldman, the president of the 1.2 million-member union, said in a statement. "And yet, early-childhood teachers are the lowest paid and least trained of almost any occupation."

States' Progress

Overall, states have made tremendous progress in supporting early-childhood education, the AFT found. Twenty years ago, about 10 states provided such education. Today, 46 states and the District of Columbia provide money for some type of preschool program for children under age 5.

But the report also shows that state-financed programs serve only about 12 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds.

"What we have nationwide can, at best, be described as a patchwork of early-childhood programs," according to the report.

The AFT has in the past called for a national commitment to universal access to preschool beginning at age 3. The union has proposed a "Kindergarten Plus" program for states that would provide extended-year, full-day kindergarten to disadvantaged children by allowing them to begin kindergarten the summer before they would usually enter and continue through the summer after kindergarten.

The AFT report recommends that states make preschool available to all 3- and 4-year-olds beginning with disadvantaged children; guarantee full-day kindergarten for all children whose families want them to participate; and require higher levels of formal education and training for teachers.

Vol. 22, Issue 25, Page 21

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