In 2021, California made major new investments to advance its commitment to early childhood education through universal preschool. One important investment was extending state funding for transitional kindergarten (TK), previously just for older 4-year-olds, to all 4-year-olds by 2025–26. To ensure the quality of new preschool investments, California must recruit and prepare a sufficient number of qualified teachers in TK and other early childhood programs—a challenge in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, when school districts and early childhood programs are facing significant staffing shortages.
This report provides estimates for how many TK teachers California will need through 2025–26 and discusses potential pathways to support a diverse, well-prepared workforce, both in TK and in other early childhood programs. We also offer recommendations that state policymakers could follow to stabilize, support, and expand the broader early childhood workforce and build pathways for racially, linguistically, and culturally diverse educators.
Projecting the Need for TK Teachers: Summary of Findings
Specifically, the study finds the following:
- In 2025–26, more than 300,000 students are likely to enroll in TK.
- To meet this demand, districts will need to hire between 11,900 and 15,600 additional lead teachers by 2025–26.
- California will need at least 16,000 to 19,700 assistant TK teachers by 2025–26.
- Growth in TK teacher demand is not linear over time, with particularly sharp increases in 2023–24 and 2025–26.
- County differences in TK uptake rates and population size translate into varying hiring expectations, as TK uptake has historically varied greatly across counties, and the five largest counties (Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino) account for more than half of the total estimated increased demand by full implementation.
Building a Qualified, Diverse TK Workforce
These estimates show that California has a substantial, urgent need for new lead and assistant TK teachers. To meet this need, California must develop new teachers and draw upon educators currently in the workforce. Yet California has different requirements for lead TK teachers and other early childhood educators, which will create challenges in moving experienced early educators into the TK workforce. Teachers working in state-funded and private preschools must have at least a Child Development Associate permit, which requires 12 units of early childhood education (ECE) and 50 days of work experience but does not require a degree. By contrast, lead TK teachers must have a Multiple Subject teaching credential, which requires a bachelor’s degree and completing an accredited teacher credentialing program. By August 2023, TK teachers must additionally have 24 units of early childhood coursework, a Child Development Teaching permit, or equivalent experience. The state is also currently considering the adoption of a revised ECE Specialist Credential specific to the needs of children in preschool through grade 3. To work as an assistant TK teacher, an individual needs to hold a high school degree and (at minimum) pass an assessment demonstrating basic skills and pedagogical knowledge. However, there are no requirements for early childhood coursework or experience for assistant TK teachers.
To build this new qualified, diverse TK and preschool workforce, California can draw on several potential pools of educators or candidates:
- Current Multiple Subject credential holders, including current elementary teachers and out-of-state credential holders, can teach while earning the 24 units of ECE required to teach TK by August 2023.
- Current early childhood educators with a bachelor’s degree and recent graduates of ECE bachelor’s degree programs are good candidates for fast-tracked paths into lead TK teacher positions, since they have experience working with young children, already meet several requirements needed to earn a credential, and may be attracted by the support and compensation offered for teaching TK.
- Current early childhood educators without a bachelor’s degree have experience working with children and are good candidates for apprenticeship programs and degree pathway programs that lead efficiently to a bachelor’s degree and, eventually, a teaching credential.
- New candidates that districts might tap to fill assistant TK teacher positions and teach in other ECE programs include recent high school graduates, parents of school-aged children who are reentering the workforce, career changers, and more. Districts might additionally build dual-enrollment pathways that allow students to take ECE-related coursework for college credit while in high school, and support pathways to a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential.
California will need to take steps to produce an adequate supply of effective early educators in the short and long term. State policymakers can take the following six steps to stabilize, support, and expand the broader early childhood workforce and build pathways for racially, linguistically, and culturally diverse educators.
- Clearly map out and communicate career pathways into TK and other ECE programs.
- Develop high-quality pathways into teaching TK that are tailored to the needs of experienced early educators.
- Provide grants to institutions of higher education to develop new credentialing programs for preschool to 3rd grade educators.
- Set appropriate requirements for assistant TK teachers to ensure these educators are prepared to support learning and development.
- Make new investments in the broader early educator workforce beyond TK.
- Collect new data to monitor ECE workforce needs, including how many teachers are currently teaching TK or what background they have.
Building a Well-Qualified Transitional Kindergarten Workforce in California: Needs and Opportunities by Hanna Melnick, Emma García, and Melanie Leung--Gagné is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
This research was supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Packard Foundation, and the Ballmer Group. Core operating support for LPI is provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Sandler Foundation, and MacKenzie Scott. We are grateful to them for their generous support. The ideas voiced here are those of the authors and not those of our funders.