FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at an event on Monday, June 28, 2021.

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law Wednesday designed to address shortages in Illinois’ early childhood education workforce.

HB 2878 forms a statewide higher education consortium of all 2 and 4-year public institutions to streamline the process of earning a teacher’s degree, with the option for private schools to opt-in. Institutions that are part of the consortium would honor any early childhood education student with junior standing, provided that they have an associate’s degree of applied science in the field from any member school.

“Upscaling the incumbent early childhood workforce fosters racial, gender, geographic and economic equity, while enabling families to work, go to school and provide safe and high-quality environment for children to learn and grow.” said the bill’s co-sponsor Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago. “They held us together during the pandemic, and they have always been there for us.”

The consortium would create regional hubs that would assess local needs to determine what kind of education model works best for the last two years of early childhood education student’s needs.

Pacione-Zayas said the hope is expanded enrollment, diversification of all levels of the early childhood workforce, and respond to local workforce needs.

The state also announced a $200 million investment into the program from American Rescue Plan Act funds over the next two years, which Governor J.B. Pritzker is calling a “massive scholarship program.” Officials said the allotment of federal funds has the potential to help about 20% of those in need, or about 5,600 child care workers.

“All children deserve the most highly qualified and most effective teachers that they can have in every classroom, from early childhood all the way through,” said bill co-sponsor state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.

Illinois Action for Children, a statewide organization focused on the early childhood workforce, supported the initiative, which was born out of a working group organized by the Illinois Board of Education’s strategic planning process.

Twice per year, the consortium is required to report to the General Assembly on its progress.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.