How Much Do Early Education Teachers Make?

An ECE Salaries Guide

Salary Outlook and Overview

Current BLS occupational information on preschool and elementary school teachers shows a positive trend. The data shows about 500,000 preschool teaching jobs with a projection for about 550,000 in the year 2026. This will provide a gain of about 50,000 jobs. Entry-level education for the position is an associate degree but the trend is towards bachelor’s degrees as the standard in public and private educational settings.

Preschool and Kindergarten Teacher Salaries

The BLS job outlook for employment of preschool teachers is positive. The federal government projects 10% growth in preschool teacher employment during the period 2016 through 2026. The 10% growth projection is higher than the estimate for all occupations. BLS cites the forces behind the increase include the increased level of emphasis on preschool education among educators and the society overall.

Preschool education careers increase as the population grows. An even bigger driver of growth is the increasing levels of support for preschool programs. Federal and state laws require children to attend school, starting in kindergarten at about age five. Childhood education experts have done extensive research and shown evidence that the critical learning years begin far earlier. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), early childhood runs from birth through age eight. Early Childhood Education is a vital ingredient in child development and a key to overcoming barriers for children in underserved communities.

The NAEYC has been an influential group in the movement towards recognizing the importance of early childhood education. Birth through age five is a formative period for language, socialization, and the foundation for learning math, science, and reading. The societal and parental investment in early childhood education pays dividends over a lifetime of learning and civic participation. The movement towards greater involvement in early childhood education drives a growing demand for highly-trained preschool teachers.

Salaries by Area of Employment

There are many factors that affect salary or wages; they include location or geography and the size of the job market. Geography is a common cause of wage or salary differences. Some states, regions, or other areas have higher wages than nearby locations for the same occupation, skill level, and experience.

Large vs. Small Towns

Salaries can vary by the size of the metropolitan area and the location of the school or other early childhood education employer. Large cities or densely populated areas offer a stronger market for preschool teachers than sparsely populated, more rural areas. Strong competition and high demand for early childhood education mean that those in larger cities will usually be paid more. Wealthy or affluent communities may have high costs of living and therefore they also pay high wages to attract top talent. The expense of living in a particular area is a significant factor in the range of salaries.

Public vs. Private Schools

Public school settings have traditionally paid higher wages for early childhood educators than private schools for teachers with similar educational qualifications. Salary levels rise gradually for ECE graduates, primarily as the demand for their services grows. The higher salaries are crucial to the future of early childhood education.

In the past, employers may have perceived early education as somehow easier or less skill intensive than K-3rd grade. As the preschool teaching field has gained in public awareness, the public gained a better understanding of early childhood education. Parents can see the impact of early education teaching; ECE is profoundly important to child development, and it requires highly-trained teachers. Higher salaries for preschool teachers add incentives for college students to pursue early childhood education bachelor degrees and graduate education.

Salaries by Degree Level

Salaries in early childhood education follow the education and salary pattern in all types of employment. As students gain higher levels of education, they earn higher salaries. The items below describe the salary ranges for the levels of early childhood education.

Preschool Teacher Associate's Degree Salary

The median salaries start in the range of $25,000 with a mid-career range of about $34,000 Late career salaries range at about $39-$40,000. The early childhood education job options for associate degree holders include school and private care settings. The college-level training can help qualify graduates for Director positions in childcare facilities and preschool teaching in private settings.

ECE Bachelor’s Degree Salary

The salaries show a national average of $56,000. The early career range is about $50,000, the mid-career range is approximately $55,000, and the late-career range is around $60,000. Most bachelor’s degree jobs in ECE involve working directly with young learners, leading classrooms to give their intellectual, emotional, and physical development a great start. The popular jobs include Childcare Center Director, Preschool Teacher, Kindergarten Teacher, and Child Welfare Social work.

Some Bachelor degree holders concentrate on a field like special education. Today’s ECE graduates can ride the wave of expansion in early childhood education. More and more, today's parents and caregivers realize the tremendous benefits from their investment in early childhood education programs for their children.

Preschool & ECE Master’s Degree Salary

The salaries range from about $48,000 for entry-level salaries to over $55,000 for experienced master’s level ECE educators. However, there are some remarkable differences based on location. Los Angeles salaries show a median range above $90,000. Washington, DC shows about $62,000 and New York ‘s median is $52,000. The job options include public school teaching, Preschool Facility Director, and specialized degrees for pre-K to elementary school Special Education. The Master’s degree is also the threshold level of postsecondary education that helps prepare the next generation of ECE teachers and college faculty.

Salary for a Doctoral Degree Graduate

These advanced scholars have a median salary in the range of $86,000. The early career salary range is about $62,000 with experienced doctorate degree holders averaging about $86,000. The late career stages show a median range of about $98,000. PhDs lead the field with research, college level teaching, and graduate level mentoring. PhDs provide thought leadership in the field of early childhood development to promote ethical standards, better outcomes, and higher quality in education. Scholars at the doctoral level promote innovations that enhance learning and enrich learning environments for early learners.

Salaries by Grade Level

Early childhood educators work with children in elementary education up to grade three or about age eight. There is widespread agreement on the importance of the educational period of birth through age eight. These formative periods offer the best chance of developing a foundation for a lifetime of successful learning.

Given the widespread acceptance of ECE as a critical period in each child’s development, the salaries for preschool teaching have lagged behind public school teacher salaries. In 2016, the Department of education found that national median salaries for Head Start teachers and preschool teachers ($28,500) were only about 55% of the median for elementary school teachers ($54,890). The gap may be closing as more private and public schools increase the level of early childhood services.

Occupations/Salaries by Career Level
Occupations Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Child Care Facility Director $33,000 $35,500 $40,000
Child Care Facility Worker $18,500 $22,000 $24,000
Assistant Teachers $22,000 $23,500 $25,000
Preschool $25,500 $27,000 $29,000
Elementary School $40,000 $43,000 $56,000
Elementary School Principal $72,000 $78,000 $82,000
School Counselor $45,000 $50,500 $65,000
Postsecondary Education Professor $62,000 $81,000 $98,000

*Salary data from PayScale

Future Outlook for Early Childhood Educator Careers

Some landmark research by renowned economists introduces the concept of the value to the American society from investment in early childhood education. The research discovered that early childhood education was a key factor in opportunity and achievement over a lifetime. Children that started slow, or late, ended up behind the rest and fell far short of their potential.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was a powerful group in developing educational standards that incorporated the value of early childhood education and raised awareness that, by waiting till age five and kindergarten, valuable opportunities were lost. The early childhood education window begins at birth, and the pre-kindergarten phase is critical to reaching a child’s potential.

As this research settled into policy, the demand for early childhood education began to grow in nearly every part of the US. States and local communities embraced the opportunity to invest in children that would benefit all and reduce other long-term costs as children grew into successful students and productive members of their communities.

The emphasis on early childhood education drives a rising level of employment in ECE careers across the US. The growth prospects are solid for the foreseeable future; however, some job markets may be uneven and growth may be more pronounced in large cities and affluent communities.

Learn More About Teaching Salaries in Your State


*Salary info provided by BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

*Employment is combined preschool, kindergarten & special education

*Annual Wage for Special Education Teachers is Combined Preschool Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary Averaged

Get The Steps to Become a Teacher Start You Career Path Today

If you have a passion for working with young children and want to become an educator, check out the steps necessary to advance your teaching career.

View Steps