Illinois Creates a New Department of Early Childhood – Governing

5 minutes, 17 seconds Read

Illinois Creates a New Department of Early Childhood

Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

The new agency will combine programs that provide services for children under 6, which had primarily been divided among three different departments.


Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker holds up a newly signed bill at Eyes On The Future Child Development Center in Chicago establishing the Illinois Department of Early Childhood on June 25, 2024. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Terrence Antonio James/TNS

Angela Farwig, a longtime advocate for early childhood education who leads Illinois Action for Children, believes the creation of the new Department of Early Childhood – signed into law Tuesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker – will finally transform a system that has been historically undersupported.

The new agency represents a major step forward in the state’s mission to streamline childhood services into one place, making it easier for families and providers to access critical services and programs across the state.

“I think our early childhood system has been underfunded for a very long time, built on as resources came available,” said Farwig, vice president of public policy, advocacy and research for Illinois Action for Children. Combining early childhood services into one agency allows families a go-to resource for support and services for their children in their formative years, she said. “We really think that this can drive more understanding of the potential of these first couple of years (in a child’s life),” she said.

Previously, most early childhood services for children under 6 were split among three state agencies – the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Some of the programs moving from the new agency will envelop formerly disparate services into one entity, including programs that pay for childcare costs so parents can work or attend school, “Preschool for All,” which makes preschool accessible for all three—and four-year-olds in the state, special education programming for children before they enter elementary school, and daycare licensing, among others.

Pritzker also named Irma Martinez Snopek, a former Illinois State Board of Education officer, acting secretary for the new agency.

State legislators set aside $14 million to create the new agency when they passed a $53.1 billion budget in June. At Tuesday’s bill signing, Pritzker said whether the new agency will require additional funding once established is unclear.

“I know there are people who want to complain about creating a new agency and will that end up costing the taxpayers,” Pritzker told reporters. ”I think there’s real efficiency in taking programs that are disparately located in different departments and bringing them all together,” he said.

If the two-year developmental phase goes as smoothly as advocates hope, the new state agency will become operational in July 2026.

According to Farwig, the agency will give families and early childhood service providers a single entity to seek and offer resources. “Versus, ‘Oh I’ve got this issue with licensing that is over at the Department of Child and Family Services, Farwig said. “Instead of providers and families bouncing around between agencies to access resources and support.”

However, there are still areas where the state’s plans to boost early childhood programs fall short, including an “insufficient investment” in the early childhood education workforce, according to Neoma Nagahawatte, who works with Farwig as the assistant director of advocacy at Illinois Action for Children.

Nagahawatte is particularly concerned about a scholarship program established in 2021 with federal COVID-relief dollars to address the shortage of qualified early childhood educators.

Nagahawatte said early childhood education advocates in Illinois requested $60 million in this year’s budget to fund the scholarships, but the state only allocated $5 million.

“This cut will impact Illinois’ ability to meet childcare needs across the state, which perpetuates our current childcare crisis,” Nagahawatte said.

She anticipates the shortage of funds leading to one setback after the next, including fewer scholarship applications for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in early education and “deep cuts” in the quality of services and supports available to students pursuing degrees in early childhood education. “We’re expecting to see that play itself out in the pipeline of early childhood educators going into the field, which inevitably contributes to the childcare desert,” she said.

Illinois Action for Children, which serves nearly 150,000 children and families annually by providing access to early childhood care and education opportunities, will monitor the impact of what she called “significantly reduced funding” going forward. This information will inform how they advocate in the next legislative session.

Kimberly Bianchini, a childcare provider and owner of Advance Preschool in Hoffman Estates, said the agency’s real-world, practical implications could be immense for resolving issues efficiently.

Bianchini said the needs at her preschool are often dire, and there is little supplemental support to navigate programs that help parents find funding and resources to send their children to daycare or preschool. The new agency, she said, will simplify access for providers like her who are servicing the highest-risk children.

“Right now, I have one person whose entire job is to support parents because we have so many cases and the paperwork is so difficult,” Bianchini said.

As a general resource, the state launched a website for the Department of Early Childhood where parents and providers can toggle through FAQs, resources and stay up to date on the agency’s evolution.

Acting Secretary Snopek’s term is temporary, Gov. Pritzker’s press secretary, Alex Gough, explained in an email to the Tribune. Snopek’s “temporary designation” is used when there’s a leadership transition, ongoing search, or, in this case, a new agency and search for a leader.

The appointment letter states that Snopek’s term expires on Aug. 23. Her annual salary is $214,000.

In 2023, Pritzker, who made early childhood education a focal point of his second term, implemented the multi-year Smart Start initiative to improve access to preschool and increase funding for childcare providers.

The 2025 budget also includes $45 million for the second year of a three-year pilot program to fill teacher vacancies, an increase of $10 million to $711 million for grant funding for college students, and an additional $75 million in grant funding for preschool enrollment.

©2024 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this page

Similar Posts