Business Leaders Say Cuts to Early Learning Could Lead to STEM Job Loss

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Springfield - Some see early education as the stepping stone to furthering a child's academic development.

However, business leaders from all corners of the state believe that it's much more than that.

"A better focus on early learning can help us lay a solid foundation for our future workforce," said Tom Fitch, vice president of O'Shea Builders in Springfield.

While the state continues to grow in terms of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, there are some industry leaders and small-business owners that worry there may not be enough Illinoisans qualified to fill those jobs some day.

They say that there will potentially be another 100,000 STEM jobs created within the next decade, but there's concern that nobody will be able to fill those positions.

They believe a potential cause is years of cuts to early childhood education.

Rudy Valdez, vice president of South West Ideas For Today and Tomorrow says that, "without focused efforts, we won't be able to fill all of these positions with highly skilled, fully qualified workers.  We're coming up short."

"Overall, about 20,000 young children, 3 an 4 year-olds, lost access to state supported pre-K services.  And we will set back the quality of services of per-pupil resources drop by $900 from its peak," added Fitch.

In the WAND viewing area, between 2009 and 2015, Champaign County saw an 18% cut in the number of early childhood education students.  In Macon County, there was a 23% drop in students.  In Sangamon County there were about 18% less students.  The highest percentage of cuts was in Effingham county at almost 93%.

Through policy changes by state government, Ready Nation leaders believe that can change.

"Illinois needs to return to progress towards our statutory, bi-partisan goal of making high-quality early learning services available more young children and continuing to prioritize services for at-risk kids," said Fitch.

Ready Nation said that an increase of $75M dollars to fiscal year 2017 will be a major step in the right direction to improve early learning.

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