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Pritzker enacts new state agency some worry has unknown taxpayer cost

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(The Center Square) – Beginning July 1, Illinois will have a new state agency set to roll out over the next three years to handle all things early childhood development.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1 Tuesday in Chicago. He said transferring early childhood services from three different state agencies to a new one will streamline things for parents.

“The Department of Early Childhood, our first ever unified state agency dedicated to supporting Illinois’ youngest children and their parents,” Pritzker said.

The measure passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate. Before the measure passed in the Illinois House, Republican state Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, raised concerns.

“I don’t think anywhere in the history of government, especially in the history of government in the state of Illinois, have we created the bureaucracy, especially massive bureaucracy and it worked out well for the taxpayers at the end of the day,” Wilhour argued in opposition.

The budget beginning July 1 is expected to cover the initial $13 million cost. The cabinet level leader for the department will make nearly $215,000 a year, not including benefits. Once fully established, the agency could have a taxpayer price tag of more than $4 billion.

Pritzker announced his intention to create the new agency late last year.

“Once fully implemented in 2026, this new agency will make life simpler, better and fairer for tens of thousands of Illinois families,” he said Tuesday.

While he supported the measure, state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, worried it will add to the size of state government.

“As H.L. Mencken said, ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and clamoring for safety by creating a series of hobgoblins most of them imaginary,” Reick said.

Once created, the agency will take over the early childhood block grant administered by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Child Care Assistance Program administered by the Department of Human Services, and day care licensing management from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

“The foundation of a child’s success and well-being is built starting the moment they are born,” said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. “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.”

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