You want your young child to have the best education possible, but what about the people educating them?

There's a continued push in New Jersey and nationwide to professionalize the preschool and child-care staff that handle our children from birth through age 5.

Comstock Images, ThinkStock
Comstock Images, ThinkStock

"All kids can benefit when teachers better understand how they learn," said Cynthia Rice, senior policy analyst with Advocates for Children of New Jersey. "The research shows a better educated teacher means a better quality classroom."

According to Rice, the state has much to learn from its own nationally-recognized universal preschool model in 30+ low-income communities. In the districts, a bachelor's degree is required among teachers, and scholarships were offered to help achieve that standard.

"There's thousands and thousands of children in this state that live outside those communities," Rice said, noting that going back for an education is no easy feat for these staff members because they can't afford to pay for it.

"We need more access for teachers beyond state-funded preschool," she said. "Scholarships are key."

The New Jersey-based nonprofit Pre-K Our Way aims to revive a 2008 law that would expand state funding for preschool into more than 100 districts throughout the state. The School Funding Reform Act, which would offer free preschool to an additional 50,000 kids, never received the necessary funding.

Gov. Chris Christie signed off on $25 million included by legislators in the 2017-2018 budget for public preschool expansion. Funding for teachers to go back to school for degrees is not part of that $25 million, Rice said.

"We know that when a child has a very strong pre-education from birth to age 5, it's going to benefit the child and it's really going to benefit our economy," said Valora Washington, CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, the leading credential organization for preschool and child-care staff members. "One of the most important factors of being sure that your child is having a strong experience is the actual worker, the actual professional that is working with your children."

To achieve a Child Development Associate credential through the council, requirements include 480 hours of work experience, a professional portfolio and observation of a teacher's classroom interaction with young children.

Approximately 13,500 childhood education workers in New Jersey have a CDA credential.

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