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Think teacher pay is low in Colorado? Try teaching preschool.

Last year, lead Colorado preschool teachers in district-run schools made $30,500 on average -- nearly $22,000 less than public elementary school teachers

Simla Elementary School kindergarten teacher Holly Koehn reads to students at the Big Sandy School Monday, February 25, 2019. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Anne Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

Last year’s statewide teacher rallies and this year’s Denver teacher strike shined a bright light on Colorado’s lower-than-average teacher pay.

But less well-known is the wide salary gap between public elementary school teachers and their preschool counterparts. Last year, lead preschool teachers in district-run schools made $30,500 on average, nearly $22,000 less than public elementary school teachers, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

While public preschool teacher pay is low in many states, Colorado is close to the bottom, according to the institute’s data. It’s a problem that makes it hard for preschool providers to recruit and retain qualified teachers, and is one reason state early childhood leaders created a three-year plan to boost the early childhood workforce.

Of the 28 states that reported salary data for public preschool and elementary teachers in the new report, only four had larger pay gaps than Colorado — California, Florida, Maryland, and Montana. The yawning divide between teachers who serve 3- and 4-year-olds and those who serve older children is fueled in some states by lower educational requirements for preschool teachers.

In Colorado, preschool teachers — unlike K-12 teachers — aren’t required to have teaching licenses from the state education department, a credential that requires a bachelor’s degree.


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