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There's a major shortage of early childhood educators. A new initiative offers full scholarships to recruit hundreds of teachers.

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The teacher shortage impacts even Illinois’ youngest students.

Many early childhood and preschool programs have empty classrooms because they simply don’t have enough teachers to cover them.

Dr. Lynda Ransdell is the dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences at Northern Illinois University. She says at NIU, their early childhood program is in the same boat.

“We do have our Child Development and Family Center out that's open on campus," she said. "But we could expand if we had more individuals in the workforce.”

That’s one of the reasons she’s excited about the state’s new Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity. This summer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the state was devoting $200 million in federal funds to expand the early childhood education workforce.

Thanks to that funding, NIU is offering full-tuition scholarships to folks with early childhood experience, or an associate degree, looking to “upscale” their early childhood education skills.

Ransdell says they did a workforce survey and found that schedule flexibility and module-based learning would help the most for working adults who need more training.

“They may be eight weeks instead of 16,” she said. “They may also give credit for experience that these individuals already have in the workforce.”

They’ll also finish the two-year program with in-demand endorsements for English as a second language and special education. Ransdell says they’re hoping to train 160 educators in the next two years.

The application is available online.