In Illinois, a major investment in training for early childhood educators—and a sign of things to come

The governor of Illinois announced last week that the state will direct $200M in federal funds to additional training, mentorships, and education scholarships for the childcare workforce over the next two years. As the federal infrastructure bill advances largely without funding for the caregiving and training “infrastructure” that President Biden wanted, it’s a sign that states are nevertheless feeling a pressing need and willing to get creative.

The big idea: States across the country face a massive shortage of early childhood educators—and Illinois has been out front in the push to rethink training and pathways for those workers. This new funding adds to the momentum. About $150M will go directly to resources for workers, including:

  • $120 million in financial support, including scholarships, to encourage child care workers to pursue advanced credentials
  • $30 million to provide coaches, mentors, and navigators with tools to help child care workers pursue degrees

Why it matters: The state estimates that the funds will support about 5,600 child care workers—20 percent of those in need of additional training—who might otherwise not be able to complete a postsecondary degree by 2024.

Degrees will be a major focus of the work, but Stephanie Bernoteit, executive deputy director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said certain nondegree credentials will be supported as well. Individuals will be able to earn one or more of the state’s Gateways Credentials in early-childhood education that stack and lead to an associate degree. And fund recipients who are completing bachelor’s degrees will be able to pursue the professional educator license through the State Board of Education.

Joni Scritchlow, director of professional development at the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA), has been advising on and closely following the state’s investments in the early childhood workforce. “We are hearing anecdotally that Illinois early childhood employers are quite excited about this opportunity to assist their staff advance educationally via credentials and degree attainment,” she says.

Beyond the money: In addition to providing new funding, the governor signed legislation to create an Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity that will bring together the state’s two-year and four-year institutions to improve transfer pathways and prior learning credit for early childhood educators. The legislation specifically instructs the consortium to:

  • Ensure that the state’s four-year institutions grant “junior” standing to students who transfer with an associate of applied science degree in early childhood education
  • Determine how to assign college credit for incumbent child care workers who have a child development associate credential
  • Standardize methods for awarding credit for prior learning

The state and its licensing body for ECE credentials already have been working together to get institutions to adopt the same set of credentials, with a unified set of competencies and definitions embedded in their curriculum. So far 76 institutions across the state have adopted those credentials and begun to share assessment tools. This investment, Bernoteit said, will further that work.

Parting thought: “Ultimately, upskilling the incumbent early childhood workforce fosters racial, gender, geographic, and economic equity while enabling families to work, go to school and provide a safe and high quality environment for children to learn and grow. They are the workforce behind the workforce who held us together during the pandemic,” State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago), said in the funding announcement.

This article was updated on August 17, 2021 to reflect additional detail provided by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. No facts in the original story changed.

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