BOSTON (WWLP) – Tens of thousands of Massachusetts children are on a waitlist to get into a state-funded preschool program.

One Springfield mother, Milagros Arocho, told 22News that the ability to send her daughter to pre-school is setting her child up for a brighter future. “She knows how to write her name and she’s only 3-years old. She knows her numbers, her colors, stuff that me as a parent by myself can’t teach her.”

Early education advocates, teachers and parents gathered at the State House on Thursday. They’re urging lawmakers to improve the quality of early education this year, rather than to expand access; and are hoping for $40 million in the state budget to give preschool teachers a pay raise, from $12.25 per hour to $13.10.

Anat Weisenfreund of Parent-Child Development Center said, “We’re having people leave the workforce to go work at McDonald’s because they can make more money there even though they have bachelor’s degrees.”

However, it’s a tough sell. South Hadley State Representative John Scibak told 22News that it’s much harder to secure funding for salary increases, as opposed to getting more toddlers into the classroom.

(How do you convince your colleagues that $40 million should be dedicated to this program?) State Rep. Scibak replied, “Ask them, do you have children? Do you want the best for your kids, and if you want the best for own children, don’t we want the best for all kids in the Commonwealth?”

Under state law, Massachusetts children are not required to go to preschool or kindergarten.