pacione zayas 031721CHICAGO – A wide-ranging new plan to bolster the early childhood education workforce in Illinois by creating a new Early Childhood Education Consortium was signed into law Wednesday, the result of legislation championed by State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago).

“To truly provide Illinois children with the best possible education, we know that we need to invest in early childhood education, and that means investing in the educators who work so hard to help them learn and grow,” Pacione-Zayas said. “This is a step toward properly valuing those who do this incredibly important work, and it’s the beginning of a new chapter in our approach to raising our kids.”

The Early Childhood Education Consortium will be a broad coalition between all public universities and community colleges, as well as any private institutions that choose to participate. The consortium will use regional hubs to improve access to degrees, certificates, and other licensure for early childhood educators, with special priority given to those already working in the early childhood workforce and often need flexibility in their career education when it comes to scheduling, location and format.

The consortium would also allow Illinois community colleges the option of applying to the Higher Learning Commission for the ability to confer a Bachelor's of Applied Science degree in Early Childhood Education as well as offer Professional Educator Licenses with early childhood and early childhood special education endorsements. Colleges would also be required to maintain associate-level early childhood education programs.

Those working toward degrees at any of the member institutions would have the option of taking any course at any member institution in the event it isn’t offered at the school in which they are enrolled, and standardized methods of determining college credit for prior learning would be applied.

A study of the early childhood workforce from March of 2020 showed 7,670 had an Associate’s degree and would benefit from progressing to a baccalaureate degree, and that 20,467 with a high school diploma or some college would benefit from progressing to an Associate’s degree.

“These teachers, who are overwhelmingly women and people of color, have been on the front lines of the pandemic for a year,” Pacione-Zayas said. “If we’re to bolster this workforce, we need to pool the resources of our education institutions to make a more accessible pathway for our early childhood educators.”

House Bill 2878 was signed into law on Wednesday. It is effective immediately.