SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Education experts said they are excited to see more money being set aside for education from pre-K to college to fund investments they argue are critical.

A highlight in this year’s state budget is education, with more funding to help the state’s students, teachers and schools.

One of the headlines from Governor J.B. Pritzker’s February budget address was Smart Start Illinois. The program aims to provide early childhood programs for all young Illinoisans. The budget would allocate $250 million for the first year of the plan.

“You can put a lot of work into K-12, and higher ed, but if you’re not building the foundations in early childhood, you’re missing the boat,” Mark Klaisner, the president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendent of Schools, said. “You already start with some problems that have developed prior to coming in.”

For K-12 public schools, the evidence-based funding model would get a major boost of $350 million. The funding model uses certain metrics to determine how much money schools need to give students a proper education.

“Because of the state’s dedication to making this continued investment in K-12, as our spending on K-12, in Illinois actually is ahead of where it was two decades ago on an inflation-adjusted basis,” Ralph Martire, the executive director of Center of Tax and Budget Accountability, said. “Not by a lot, by a couple of percentage points.”

The budget also aims to address the teacher shortage with money for a three-year pilot program. It would set aside $45 million for the program’s first year.

“That money can be used in a variety of ways that best fit the needs of that local district,” Klaisner said. “And it’s targeted on districts that needed the most.”

Students’ college education would also get a boost in funding, with the budget providing an additional $100 million for MAP grants. With those grants, students can receive more need-based financial aid making sure getting a degree remains affordable.

“You’re able to get more students in the door,” Shanda Byer, Lincoln Land Community College’s interim student services vice president, said. “It’s making college a possibility for students that maybe didn’t think it was a possibility before.”

Also in the budget is $100 million in funding for higher education. More than 80 million would go to the state’s public universities, and the rest will go to Illinois community colleges.

According to Martire, higher education spending has lagged in Illinois over the past two decades.

“On an inflation-adjusted basis, last year, in fiscal year 2023… we’ll be spending about 46%, less in inflation-adjusted terms than we did back in the year 2000,” Martirie said. “46%, almost 50%.”

While Governor J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), and Illinois Speaker of the House Chris Welch (D-Hillside) all agreed to a budget Wednesday afternoon, the budget has not passed either chamber. The budget is expected to be voted on in the Senate late Thursday night.