Springfield, IL - Early childhood education providers and advocates say Illinois lawmakers should put a $150 million increase into the early childhood block grant for next year's budget. Gov. JB Pritzker has proposed a $50 million boost from the $544 million approved for the grant for the current fiscal year.
Members of the House Appropriations - Elementary & Secondary Education Committee were shocked advocates would ask for triple the amount the governor has budgeted.
"We recognize that there are tight budgets and you all have to make tight decisions, but we wanted to make sure that we represented what we believe is the full need in our system at least for this current fiscal year," said Ounce of Prevention Legislative Affairs Director Jonathan Doster.
Lawmakers also addressed concerns of early childhood employees getting "poached" by schools offering more incentives after the complete training. One of the Representatives mentioned childcare providers could possibly benefit from lowering the regulations for entry into the system.
"$8 million is a lot of money and there should be some immediate benefit in retention I would hope, if we're going to try and spend that kind of money on mentoring teachers and principals to that degree," said Rep. Steven Reick (R-Woodstock).
Shortage of funding and staff
One of the panelists said university studies have shown a high correlation between the impact of mentoring and individuals leaving early childhood jobs for other options in education. Stephanie Emery is one of the many early childhood education providers across the state. As the Director of Children Garden Learning in Macoupin County, Emery leads a staff of 25 employees that watch over 120 children. She says families often call and ask for full day childcare and pre-school services. Emery added the parents usually ask if they can start tomorrow, as grandparents or other relatives can't watch their children.
"Often I find myself saying we don't have that opening because of the shortage of funding and staffing, which does not allow us to increase that availability to serve more families," Emery said. "I often also find myself enrolling a child with special needs who needs a one-on-one aid in that classroom. These children take away the care and needs to be met of the other children in the classroom because it takes a teacher one-on-one and then my other teacher has 15 other children."
Emery asked the committee why early childhood education groups aren't offered one-on-one aides that school districts hire. She also mentioned her program doesn't have the access and therapies for children ages 3 to 5 years old. "These families deserve all-day childcare and pre-school, along with those services needed. These same children come to us under the age of three. Could I lower that ratio in the classroom and hire more staff? I can't because I don't have the funding," added Emery.