Brief State Policies Shape the Racial and Ethnic Diversity of the Prekindergarten Workforce
Erica Greenberg, Grace Luetmer
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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring and retaining high-quality early care and education (ECE) educators was difficult. ECE has minimum preservice qualification requirements that establish a gateway into the profession, but inconsistent requirements across ECE sectors create incentives for educators to change jobs for better compensation and working conditions, causing a drain of talent. Federal, state, and local governments administer the wide range of programs that care for and educate young children, which creates different standards for staff, facilities, and program quality across sectors. For example, states set different lead teacher education requirements for home-based child care, child care centers, and public prekindergarten programs. State education requirements are highest for lead teachers in prekindergarten, while home-based child care teachers have the lowest education requirements, on average, with center-based lead teachers having slightly higher requirements. With such a variety of policies on hiring qualifications and standards, who gets hired in ECE programs widely differ from state to state and could have long-term impacts on the diversity of the field.

Key Data

  • In 2019, 29 states required a high school diploma or a GED or high school equivalency for home-based providers, while 36 states required a bachelor’s degree for lead teachers in prekindergarten programs.
  • In states that require one more year of education and training for center-based educators, prekindergarten educators are about 2 percentage points more likely to be people of color.
  • The prekindergarten workforce became more racially diverse between 2012 and 2019, increasing from 13.7 percent people of color to 28.4 percent. But there was a slight decrease in ethnic diversity; 7 percent of prekindergarten educators were Hispanic or Latina in 2012 compared with 18.9 percent in 2019.
  • In contrast, the child care center workforce became slightly less racially diverse from 2012 to 2019, shifting from 25.2 percent to 24.3 percent people of color, while becoming more ethnically diverse, increasing from 11.4 percent of Hispanic or Latina center-based educators to 13.3 percent.


The data show that prekindergarten educators are more likely to be people of color in states with greater requirements for center-based child care. As center educators train up to meet new requirements, they become eligible for prekindergarten positions and leave child care for jobs with better pay and better working conditions. And these opportunities could be appealing for educators of color, who face long-standing racial wage disparities in ECE. Though more teachers of color would benefit the prekindergarten workforce and reflect the racial demographics of their students, this could come at the expense of child care centers and the children who attend them by increasing staff turnover and making these settings less diverse.

Prekindergarten requirements shape the prekindergarten workforce, too. In states with one additional year of required education and training, prekindergarten educators are less likely to be Hispanic or Latina, raising concerns about structural barriers to education and training that may make it more difficult for Hispanic or Latina educators to stay in the field. These barriers may have detrimental effects on all students, especially Hispanic or Latinx prekindergarten students. To address this, federal, state, and local policymakers can make ECE a better-coordinated and well-integrated system. One option would be to make entry requirements consistent across sectors and build out career ladders across ECE, equalizing funding for positions with similar requirements and job functions. And to make upskilling more attainable for Hispanic or Latina educators, states could address structural barriers to education and training, which include access to financial aid, uncertainty and discrimination in the labor market, and transportation. Finally, federal guidance can track qualification requirements and provide guidance on how they do or do not support the ECE workforce. Moving toward a more cohesive ECE system at both the state and federal levels will benefit children and early educators in prekindergarten, child care, and beyond.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Tags Racial equity in education Early childhood education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy