Gov. JB Pritzker signs bill creating new Illinois Department of Early Childhood

ByPETER HANCOCK, Capitol News Illinois
Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Pritzker signs bill creating new Department of Early Childhood
Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation Tuesday creating a new cabinet-level state agency dedicated to early childhood education and development.

CHICAGO -- Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation Tuesday creating a new cabinet-level state agency dedicated to early childhood education and development.

The new Department of Early Childhood, which will become operational in July 2026, will take over programs currently housed across three state agencies, including funding for preschool programs, child care centers and the licensing of day care centers.

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Speaking at a bill signing ceremony at a preschool in Chicago, Pritzker said the streamlined agency should make it easier for new parents to access critical services for their children.

"It's hard enough juggling all the responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of parents," he said. "And on top of that, they shouldn't have to navigate a complex bureaucracy to get the care that they and their children deserve."

Pritzker first unveiled his plan for a consolidated agency last fall, just as lawmakers were beginning their annual fall veto session, when he issued an executive order establishing an Office of Early Childhood within the governor's office.

That order directed the Department of Human Services, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Illinois State Board of Education to begin working on a transition plan to move the administration of their early childhood programs into a new agency.

The formal bid to establish the new agency was part of Pritzker's budget proposal to the General Assembly in February, along with a second year of increased funding for those programs under Pritzker's Smart Start initiative.

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Under the plan, the new agency will take over the Early Childhood Block Grant program from the State Board of Education, which funds the Preschool for All and Prevention Initiative programs; the Child Care Assistance Program, Home Visiting programs, and Early Intervention Services currently housed in the Department of Human Services; and licensing of day care facilities, which is currently managed by the Department of Children and Family Services.

The legislation authorizing the new agency, Senate Bill 1, passed unanimously in the Senate in April, and last month passed with bipartisan support in the House, 93-18.

"The foundation of a child's success and well-being is built starting the moment they are born," Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. "As a state, it is our duty to provide the necessary support and resources to build such stability. The creation of this unique agency will break ground on our transition to a whole, trauma-informed approach to meeting children's diverse needs."

Much of the debate over the bill in the legislature focused on the cost of launching a new state agency. Lawmakers appropriated $14 million in the upcoming fiscal year for initial startup costs, which include such things as hiring executive staff and opening new office space.

But administration officials were reluctant to provide estimates of how much the new agency would cost annually once it's fully operational, and whether those administrative costs would outweigh what the state is spending currently.

Responding to questions from reporters Tuesday, Pritzker again declined to offer specific cost estimates but suggested consolidating the programs into a single agency could result in efficiencies and cost savings. But he did chide "people who want to complain" about how new state agencies will "cost...taxpayers."

"I really don't think it will," Pritzker said. "I think there's real efficiency and taking programs that are disparately located in different departments and bringing them all together."

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.