(The Center Square) – Changes could soon be coming to Illinois’ early childhood education and care programs as Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposes housing all those functions under one roof with the creation of a new state agency.
The new agency, which will be known as the Early Childhood Agency, will focus on the early childhood block grant, which funds preschool for all, the prevention initiative home-visiting program and the child care assistance program, home-visiting and early intervention services, according to a state news release.
The plan includes an additional $250 million in taxpayer funding for the child care Smart Start program and an advisory board to oversee the agency, but the total taxpayer cost of creating a new state agency isn’t known yet.
Pritzker introduced the agency on Tuesday in Chicago.
“We need a governance system that is unified in its approach to serving families, working with providers, and promoting equity,” Pritzker said. “Our Smart Start Illinois plan served as the catalyst for this transition, but this new agency will cover so much more. From [the Illinois State Board of Educatoin’s] Early Childhood Block Grants and [the Department of Children and Family Services’] day care licensing program to [the Department of Human Services’] child care, home visiting and early intervention services, soon all of these programs will be administered under the same agency.”
Dezaray Brookshire of Illinois Directors and Owners of Childcare Centers said she supports the agency if the proper parties have an equal say.
“We are thankful that these conversations are happening,” Brookshire told The Center Square. “However, we do want to make sure that stakeholders get the biggest input in this, which is what we have been striving for the last several years.”
Pritzker said the creation of the new agency is another reason Illinois is one of the best places to raise a family.
“We are all here today to take another major step forward in making Illinois the best state in the nation to raise young children,” Pritzker said.
According to Pritzker, the unified agency will address the difficulties providers and families experience when navigating three different agencies.
Fixing those issues are one of his top priorities, he said.
“I guess I should begin by saying affordable child care and accessible child care, home visiting, doula services, early intervention, preschool. Since I took office, these have been some of my highest priorities,” Pritzker said.
House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savannah, said there is no good plan for this sort of change.
“It’s OK to shift away some of the work from the other agencies that may be bogged down,” McCombie said. “If you’re just going to do it the same way, I don’t know if it is going to fix the issues.”
Brookshire said she hopes to work with state officials to ensure a smooth transition.
“For years we have been talking about DCFS and some of the overburdensome regulations that are happening to programs and it would just be nice when these changes are happening if we had some direct input into that,” Brookshire said.
The committee will be chaired by Bela Moté, and the agency director will be Ann Whalen.
Pritzker said it will take time to finalize the proposal, but didn’t give a timeline for completion.