For those without young children or close ties to secondary education, a significant number in the recently passed Illinois state budget may have raised some eyebrows.
Another $50 million in additional funding for early childhood education? How many nap mats would that buy?
But the increase — part of $200 million more since 2015 — recognizes the key role played by early childhood education for our state's youngsters.
Children now start learning much earlier than they did when kindergarten was the traditional entry point to school. Now, many children enter kindergarten with knowledge of their numbers and their letters, and a lot more — often learned in daycare or preschool settings that are almost required with single-parent households, and many families in which both parents work outside the home.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, in a recent op-ed piece in the Freeport Journal-Standard, said the state's focus on funding for education — specifically early childhood education — is "setting Illinois children up for success. ... Without access to quality education, I never would have had the opportunity to achieve the American dream."
Capitol Fax and the Chicago Tribune have both reported the new budget provides early childhood education and K-12 schools with a total of $8.4 billion, which represents an increase of $50 million for early childhood education and $350 million for primary and secondary schools.
As the number of children in this age group grows, thanks to a growing number of millennials having kids, the number of jobs in the field of early childhood education is growing, too.
Increased funding for early childhood education in the new state budget means that school districts have more jobs to fill, but there are not enough qualified candidates to fill them, said Claudia Quigg, a member of the early childhood program faculty at Decatur's Millikin University for 21 years.
"It's a degree that is in high demand and will only be higher demand," Quigg told Lee News Service in a recent story.
Illinois law requires an early childhood teacher to have a degree in that field, and licenses educators to teach children birth to age 8. Illinois State, Eastern Illinois and Millikin universities all offer early childhood education degrees and training.
As reported by Lee, it's a common misconception that early childhood education is “babysitting,” or pushes kids into academics before they're ready. Instead, the curriculum is taught using a child's interests and development, and using many different approaches.
The additional funding in the new Illinois budget recognizes that need. In doing so, it will help craft the future of the state, one child at a time.