Biden’s Pay Hike for Teachers May Lead to Smaller Classes

( – Head Start educators could be receiving a pay raise under a plan by the Biden administration to reduce staff turnover in the Head Start Program. Head Start is a federally funded program that allows children from low-income families an early start on their education.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is moving forward with plans to increase the average annual salaries of some Head Start educators by more than $10,000 along with increasing their benefits. In 2022 the average annual salary for Head Start Teachers was $39,096. HHS would like to see the average salary of a Head Start educator closer in range to that of a preschool teacher. Preschool teachers made an average of $53,200 in 2022.

The trade-off to boosting educator pay is losing slots for students. The HHS deems a slot loss an “acceptable tradeoff” to improving staff compensation and support. This would harm smaller programs, especially those in tribal communities. Melissa Harris, National Indian Head Start Directors Association President said she does not see benefits to “reducing slots to meet the proposal’s requirements”.

Khari Garvin, director of the Office of Head Start for the HHS visited Alaska in October 2023. Garvin said the feedback in Alaska was similar to other smaller programs that have had to close Head Start classrooms due to a lack of staff, including teachers.

According to Garvin, once a final rule is published, funding could be provided by Congress or, if not fully funded by Congress, the individual Head Start Programs would need to “work within their budget” to make the necessary salary increases.

Mark Lackey, a Head Start official in Alaska declared it would be difficult to fund the wage increase. He joked that the children could draw pictures of dollar bills to be cashed. On a serious note, Lackey agreed the funding could be found, but only if slots for children were sacrificed. As it stands, the program is under-enrolled because he can’t keep enough staff employed to cover all of the children.

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