Many advocates and teachers trace the teacher shortage to low salaries that made jobs at Walmart and Target more enticing during the pandemic. Lead preschool teachers earn less than $35,000 in average salaries this year in Georgia, according to state Department of Early Care and Learning data. Assistant preschool teachers make less than half that amount, while daycare workers this year earn just above $21,000 on average this year.

“[Salaries] are a major challenge right now,” said Pam Tatum, the president and CEO of the Georgia-based advocacy group Quality Care for Children. “[Target and Walmart] are pulling skilled, trained people from the child-care workforce to operate cash registers because the pay is so low in child care.”

A few programs like Atlanta’s Frazer Center have increased their starting wages to $15 an hour in recent months. Kubik, the program’s CEO, said her board found room in their budget for a wage hike to $12 an hour this past July, then another bump to $15 hourly in August. Job candidates turned in more resumes for teacher spots since then, Kubik said.

“We still don’t have enough [teachers], but we’re trying to get there,” Kubik said. “It has made a difference in the number of people who are coming through the door.”

However, Kubik’s program is an outlier. A report released last month from Quality Care for Children found that while boosting child-care wages to $15 an hour would help hire and retain teachers, most Georgia child-care programs couldn’t stomach the increase without needing to raise tuition for families. That’s tough for families already paying an average $500 or more in monthly daycare tuition, according to state data.

“While many programs have been able to survive the last year with [federal relief funds], without that support, the prospect of annual losses in a $15 minimum wage scenario of $43,267 per year is unsustainable,” the report found.


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