In early February, Governor Pritzker announced Smart Start Illinois, his administration’s proposal to make the largest investments in early care and education that the field has seen in a generation. The proposal includes $100 million in funding to build new and expand current child care facilities, an additional $50 million for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), and $130 million to enhance wages for the workforce through child care contracts.
Although Start Early is grateful for the Governor’s renewed attention to child care to begin his second term – we simply cannot stop at Smart Start’s investments because in the long-term, this funding is not sufficient to create a robust child care system that works for all children and families in Illinois. Far too many families across the state cannot access child care, much less high-quality care, due to its exorbitant cost and the lack of available classroom slots. According to Start Early’s Infant & Toddler Child Care Roadmap report, licensed child care centers have the capacity to care for only 17.4% of the state’s infants and toddlers.
The earliest years in a child’s life are the most critical years for brain development, yet infant/toddler child care is by far the most difficult type of care to secure in Illinois. It is the most expensive form of care due to low teacher-child ratios (1:4) and it’s often not seen as desirable work because of its physical nature and very low pay. In fact, infant/toddler teachers throughout the state are typically paid less than their peers. Teachers who care for our youngest learners deserve better and unless we raise teacher salaries, we will not have the workforce to increase child care slots.