Illinois has long been a national leader in the provision of early childhood services – supports that are essential to giving infants, toddlers and preschoolers and their families a fair and equitable shot at success in school and life.
Despite decades of support from governors and the Illinois General Assembly, early childhood programs in Illinois – like those across the country — are woefully underfunded and struggling. While program leaders, teachers, home visitors, doulas and Early Intervention (EI) therapists are still there to support children and families every day, programs face a critical workforce shortage, fueled heavily by low wages. We know that well-trained and supported early childhood professionals are key to giving children the quality experiences they need most. Despite this, these workforce challenges existed before the pandemic and worsened as a result.
The state has taken important actions over the past two years to support early childhood programs during the pandemic; federally-funded grants to child care providers to blunt the worst impacts. Additionally pivoting to the delivery of home visiting and Early Intervention (EI) services virtually to ensure that new families or families with children experiencing a disability or delay continues to receive quality early learning or care experiences.
However, early childhood services should be as widely accessible and affordable as later education programs (i.e., elementary school). Making early learning a public good will require significant, sustainable investments. The final report of the Governor’s Early Childhood Funding Commission states the problem plainly: over time, billions of additional dollars in state and federal funds are critical to build toward a system that serves all children and their families effectively – from birth through kindergarten entry.
The state can and must make meaningful investments in Fiscal Year 2023 that that not only help families now, but also serve as a down payment toward the system that we all envision for our families and communities.
Early learning advocates are calling for a 10% increase across early learning programs in the state’s FY 2023 budget. Further, advocates are focusing on the critical need to attend to disparities in pay for those who care for our youngest children. With a workforce that are majority women, and usually women of color, we can no longer wait to address the inequities in pay experienced by those who do this essential work.
In the budget proposed a few weeks ago, the Governor included an increase of 10% for early childhood programs at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), but not for those at the Department of Human Services (DHS), like home visiting and EI, and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). We urge the General Assembly to include these funds in the state’s FY 2023 budget, which is being developed over the coming weeks.
What could a 10% increase in Illinois’ early learning programs mean?
- A $54.4 million increase to the ISBE’s birth to age 5 programs:
- Could improve salaries, particularly for those working with infants and toddlers and in community-based organizations struggling most to attract and retain staff.
- A $10.9 million increase in funding for the EI program:
- Could improve provider reimbursement rates to ensure no child has to wait for services because there is not an available therapist. As well as other efforts to better connect children with the services for which they are eligible.
- A $1.7 million increase in funding for voluntary home visiting programs:
- Could bring compensation for home visitors closer to the state’s recommended salary levels.
- A $41.1 million increase in funding for CCAP:
- Could ensure that policy changes made to improve the availability afford child care through temporary federal dollars continues and provide child care staff more competitive pay.