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New Illinois state agency on early childhood pitched to House committee

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(The Center Square) – Illinois legislators are getting a better look at a proposed new state agency focused on early childhood, which would include a new taxpayer-funded cabinet position with a six figure salary.

The Department of Early Childhood was announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in October. Tuesday in Springfield, a House committee heard more details from Ann Whalen, the early childhood transition director, about what the agency aims to do with an initial additional taxpayer cost of $13.1 million

“It proposes to unify early childhood services under one new agency, the Department of Early Childhood, in order to make it easier for families to access services,” Whalen told legislators.

The $13.1 million for the inaugural year would be split up for staffing and operations support and funds to educate parents and providers. Over the next two years, once the new agency consolidates early childhood services from the Illinois State Board of Education, Department of Human Services and Department of Children and Family Services, it could have a $4 billion budget when including federal taxpayer dollars, Whalen said.

In the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, DHS has $466.7 million outlined for early childhood programs. ISBE has $786.8 million for early childhood. DCFS has $60.5 million for the day care line item.

State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, was cautious there’d be any savings.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a new government agency reduce redundancies, but I guess we’ll see,” Wilhour said.

The expected salary for the cabinet level leader for the department found in House Bill 5451 will be more than $214,000 a year.

If created by law, the agency would take two years to fully consolidate early childhood services from other state agencies.

“And to work with parents, providers and other stakeholders to redesign the system,” Whalen said. “Most importantly, to ensure that there’s continuity of care and service and supports for families during this time of transition.”

She said during that time, they plan to take regular feedback from stakeholders.

State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, raised concerns about how the costs for a new agency could crowd out other available money for things like K-12 education.

“But where’s the money going to come from and where are we going to take it away from, and we have no idea,” Scherer said.

Legislators have until May 31 to pass an annual state spending plan with simple majorities.

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