Legislation seeks to address early childhood teacher crisis

Gina Klingele reads “Pete the Cat: Old McDonald Had a Farm” to her class Monday morning at Blessing Hospital’s Lauretta M. Eno Early Learning Center as state Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, observes. Frese along with representatives of the Illinois Directors and Owners of Child Care Centers toured the facility before a meeting with early childhood education representatives about staffing shortages across the state. | H-W Photo/Matt Hopf
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 25, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Staffing is always an issue at Blessing Hospital's Lauretta M. Eno Learning Center. Offering its early childhood program from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, there is a need for teachers.

Program Director Joleen Patton knows the problem is statewide and in Blessing's case is like many other centers where it is getting worse.

"There are qualifications that have to be met and its a very big challenge right now with the (low) unemployment rate and shortages in all domains of employment," she said.

A 2017 state report found that the average teacher turnover rate in licensed childcare programs was 37% in infant-toddler classrooms and 42% preschool classrooms. Teacher turnover rate for school-based preschool classrooms was 21%.

"You just can't work without good peace of mind about your child care center, and in order for us directors to provide that peace of mind, it's all about the teacher," Patton said. "That's at the heart of our care."

The center hosted representatives with the advocacy group Illinois Directors and Owners of Child Care Centers for a meeting between state Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, and several other childhood education representatives.

The group is seeking support for legislation that seeks to address some of the issues. House Bill 4490 which has several co-sponsors from both parties, including Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, has been assigned to the Human Services Commission.

"It's providing another pathway for teacher certification, which is more realistic for them to be able to staff whereas the regulations that are currently in place are not realistic," said David Curtin, adviser with the group.

Secretary, Cindy Mahr, who owns and operates a child care center in Rock Island with her husband Tom, said the proposal would allow centers to hire someone as a teacher's assistant who would work under an experienced teacher as they earn their teacher credentials.

"When you're short on staff, then directors are having to cover in classrooms," Mahr said.

Frese said there is always a need for quality early childhood education programs.

"If we have child care workers leaving, and we don't have the capability of having as many children here, then those people who rely on that who are either nurses or work in some capacity with the hospital find themselves in a shortage position," he said. "There's not a lot of other options for them in the area."

The bill also would allow for a teacher with early childhood education experience to be present for the first or last hour of the workday when a director is not present.

Patton said in order to be compliance with the state, the center must have director designees who must be on site when the director is not there.

To qualify as a director designee, they must have two years of college with 21 credit hours in early childhood education and a business course.

"That's even harder to find than teachers," Patton said.

Mahr said the change would assist smaller centers that don't have a second child care director.

"I have a couple other people who are qualified, but some people don't, so it's hard" she said.