Each year the Illinois General Assembly passes legislation that can have an impact on families, or the organizations in our communities providing early childhood or related supportive services to families. Start Early leads on some of these legislative changes, often in coalition with others, and in other cases we contribute our early childhood lens and expertise to support the efforts of another lead organization. The 2022 Legislative Summary provides a listing of those bills that became law in the spring 2022 session that we thought would be relevant to families with young children and the field.  We hope that this is a resource you will download and share with colleagues and families alike. We are happy to provide additional information about any of these initiatives or connect you with other advocates where needed. Initiatives that were led by Start Early are marked *. 

The 2022 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,200 systems leaders, researchers, practitioners, policy advocates, key partners and decision makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve child and family outcomes.

Attendees at this year’s virtual event participated in workshops, affinity groups, communities of practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today, including innovations in home visiting practices and systems, addressing systematic and structural racism, and improving maternal and child health outcomes.

In-person conferences are back! This August, Start Early president Diana Rauner and I joined leading minds in technology and education from across the country in San Diego for the 2021 ASU+GSV Summit. With awareness of the importance of early childhood education and the care economy at an all-time high, more than a dozen sessions at this year’s conference explored critical issues facing our field, including kindergarten readiness, equity and workforce development.

Increased Need for Social & Emotional Supports

As we enter the start of another program and school year, children will need continued support and attention, particularly in areas of social and emotional support. We know children will be bringing the trauma that they and their families experienced in the last 18 months to school with them. As one attendee noted, they will be “bringing it in their backpacks and putting it on the table.” We also need to acknowledge the extreme stress and trauma that teachers have experienced and support them through this difficult time.

Start Early president Diana Rauner joined Walter Gilliam (Yale University), Shantel Meek (Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University) and Janice Jackson (Chicago Public Schools) for a discussion examining kindergarten readiness through the lens of disparities in suspensions, expulsions and placement in special education that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and threaten children of color’s access to education.

Meeting the Moment: The Economic Imperative of Early Childhood Education

The pandemic highlighted how essential early learning and care is to help parents return to work and support the economy. Diana joined Barbara Cooper (Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education), Rhian Allvin (National Association for the Education of Young Children), and Jane Swift (LearnLaunch) for a conversation that explored two other themes critical to the economic imperative of early childhood education: the critical need for workforce development for our current early childhood workforce and how early learning and care supports the development of our children, the workforce of the future. Diana stressed that early childhood education has a triple bottom line — it allows people to work, grows small businesses and most importantly, supports the development of children.

Every School & Community Ready to Serve Children & Families

Finally, I was excited to lead a panel on something close to my heart: flipping the narrative of the school readiness conversation. Rather than ask what we are going to do to make sure children are ready — a question that puts the burden on children and families — we need to think about how schools and communities can be ready for children as kindergarten begins.

Joined by Sophie Turnbull Bosmeny (Khan Academy Kids), Kai-lee Berke (Noni Educational Solutions), Henry Wilde (Acelero Learning), Andy Myers (Waterford.org) and James Ruben (Hellosaurus), our panel explored how we can take advantage of the current moment to ensure all children are equally ready for school.

For more content from this year’s ASU+GSV Summit on early childhood education and the care economy, visit the conference’s website or YouTube channel.

The 2021 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,500 leaders, practitioners, advocates and decision-makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve outcomes.

Summit attendees participated in virtual workshops, Communities of Practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today, including innovations in home visiting practices and systems, addressing systematic and structural racism, and improving maternal and child health outcomes.

State Leadership for Strong, Accountable and Equitable Home Visiting Systems

States are leading the way in advancing home visiting services, home visiting finance, and statewide systems with multiple models. Following adoption of federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, with support from the Pew Home Visiting Campaign, more than a dozen states adopted systems approaches, often supported by common, cross-model accountability measures and produce annual reports for their legislatures or governors. Panelists in this presentation walk through how to  broaden the audience’s understanding of how to advance a home visiting system, use cross-model funding and measurement and improve equity in home visiting.

Maternal Health Outcomes: Balancing the Scales of Equity

Maternal health and well-being are necessary to the development of healthy outcomes for children and create the foundation for favorable opportunities to build strong parent-child relationships from birth. Yet data and research indicate that women of color have inequitable access to care during and after the perinatal period. In this presentation, moderator Andrea Palmer from the Pritzker Foundation, and panelists Zea Malawa, M.D., San Francisco Department of Health, Angela Doyinsola Aina, MPH, from Black Mamas Matter Alliance and Dr. Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, Associate Administrator of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, discusses current and desired maternal health outcomes, unintended consequences of policies and practices implemented in existing systems, and strategies to increase positive maternal health outcomes for women of color at the program, community, state and federal levels.

Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences, HOPE

Now more than ever, we have a tremendous opportunity – and responsibility – to fundamentally transform our work by adopting practices that recognize, value and actively bolster positive experiences, those positive childhood experiences that drive health and well-being. Children grow and develop in response to their experiences, beginning at the moment of birth. Experiences of strong foundational relationships, safe, stable and supportive environments, authentic engagement, and opportunities for social and emotional growth can support optimal development and resilience. In this presentation, hear from Dr. Robert Sege, director of the Hope National Resource Center, on this paradigm shift towards Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences – HOPE on the power of positive transformation for ourselves and the families and communities we serve.

Countless families continue to lack access to child care, early learning programs or in-person instruction as a result of the ongoing pandemic. In our final Starting Early Begins With… event, a diverse group of experts discussed the dismal state of our workforce and what needs to be done at corporate, provider and policy levels to reopen our early learning programs equitably and safely. Panelists included:

  • Dr. Theresa Hawley, First Assistant Deputy Governor, Education, State of Illinois
  • Peter J. Holt, CEO and General Manager, HOLT CAT; Co-Chair, Early Matters San Antonio
  • Angela Lampkin, Director, Educare Chicago
  • Cheryl Oldham, Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Moderator: Diana Rauner, President, Start Early

Watch the Webinar Recording

The discussion kicked off with first-hand reflections on how and why America’s workforce has diminished to what it is today. As early learning and care programs have closed or pivoted to virtual settings, many families are facing tough decisions about whether to leave jobs or hire additional assistance to properly care for their children. Others have lost jobs and are unable to afford to send their children to private providers.

The sad reality is that women have been hit harder by this recession. Not only are women voluntarily leaving careers to care for children, but they are also a staple of industries struggling most, such as hospitality or dining. Each month, hundreds of thousands of women — nearly eight times more than the number of men — are dropping out of the U.S. labor force. In September 2020 alone, about 617,000 women left the workforce, compared to only 78,000 men.1

As one panelist noted, these staggering statistics “cut at the knees” of the work that employers have done to build a more diverse workforce that includes women and minority leaders. “It’s a wakeup call,” the panelist added. “We need to help [employers] to understand the things they can do to support employees, and specifically women employees.”

Another panelist noted that in some cases, state and policymakers are responsible for ensuring the right supports are in place for working families. For example, in Texas, the state included child care centers when labeling and defining what is essential.

When asked how we collaboratively reopen programs and businesses successfully and equitably — while also supporting the needs of families and young children — panelists shared the following:

  • flexibility and adaptability
  • grace and understanding for families
  • matching our dollars with intention
  • examining how work and life work together

These critical phrases showcase that there are, in fact, promising actions that can be taken to address the complex and unprecedented issues we delved into during this event. Diana closed by reinforcing that as a society, “We need to acknowledge that these children are everyone’s responsibility… We as a community and as a nation have to find ways to support parents and not pretend that it’s a private thing that they do on the side when they’re not at work. But, rather, that it’s critically important that we provide the supports – social supports, maternal supports, health supports and, of course, child care.”

Thank you again to our panelists for spending time with Start Early and sharing such relevant and critical information with all who attended.

Starting Early Begins With…

Early Childhood Advocacy. Prenatal & Maternal Health Care. Economic & Workforce Stability.

About the Series

Decades of research have proven that quality early learning and care programs can have positive multi-generation impact, lifting families out of poverty and setting a foundation for success. Start Early invites you to a three-part discussion series with experts who will offer critical solutions to make equal opportunity to these programs a reality. While each virtual event offers a different perspective and topic, this series comprehensively covers concrete and evidence-based solutions for combating one of society’s most complex problems – generational poverty.

The Start Early 2020 State Policy Update Report provides a snapshot of early childhood care and education budget and policy changes during the 2019-2020 state legislative sessions as of November 2020. Despite unprecedented circumstances, states made progress expanding access to and improving the quality of early learning programs and building more effective early childhood systems. Representatives from a total of 28 states and Washington, D.C. responded and are featured in the 2020 report.

As advocates, system leaders and policy makers prepare for 2021 legislative sessions, there are no shortages of reports, briefs and publications to pour over to inform the development of legislative agendas. Yet, this report offers a few features that we believe offer unique value to readers. Start Early’s 2020 State Policy Update Report:

  1. Captures the Learning Journey of Policy & Advocacy: The report explores not only what passed, but what is still pending and what failed to achieve passage. We believe we benefit as much from learning about and capturing what didn’t work, as we do from celebrating what did.
  2. Tells Stories from the Field: Only capturing quantitative progress can miss the nuance of progress and the importance of partnerships in this work. Each section of the report features stories of success from our partners – in their own words – that add powerful context to the data.
  3. Covers the Full Early Childhood System: The report offers information on the administrative, budgetary and legislative changes across the following topics: Early Care & Education, Early Intervention, Infant & Maternal Health, Mental & Behavioral Health, Family Resiliency, Home Visiting, Workforce & Higher Education, Revenue, Governance and Data.
  4. Acknowledges Complex Pandemic Impacts: This year’s survey asked respondents to categorize their responses based on whether they were adopted in response to the pandemic and what, if any, advocacy priorities were put on hold.
Watch the Webinar Recording

State Policy Update Report Launch Webinar & Panel

In this spirit of learning, storytelling and centering equity, we hosted a webinar and discussion where we dug into the top-line trends that emerged from the data and stories we collected and considered what they may mean for 2021. To dig deeper into the experiences of community and state advocates, Start Early’s webinar included a panel discussion with Mary Gaul (Executive Director, Northwest New Mexico First Born Program), Amy O’Leary (Director of Early Education for All, a campaign of Strategies for Children), and Bridget Tobey (Child Care & Development Subsidy Manager, Cherokee Nation). Thank you to our panelists for sharing their insights! Check out the conversation’s recording.


The second Starting Early Begins With… speaker series discussion painted a grim and preventable reality that exists for new Black mothers and their babies. The United States continues to report the highest rates of maternal mortality for birth parents when compared to 10 similarly wealthy countries.

Dr. Joia Adele Crear-Perry, MD, FACOG, a nationally recognized thought leader around racism as a root cause of health inequities, kicked off the event by sharing the background of the maternal and infant health crisis and its disproportionate effect on families of color.

“The United States was not built on a human rights framework… You should have the right to education, to housing, to food. Not to be a billionaire. But, for just a basic income – having a living wage,” Dr. Joia framed. “We don’t invest in things like paid leave, child care; the things we know that we desperately need right now, like free health insurance.”

Both systematic racial and gender racism generate chronic stressors for Black women that contribute to higher rates of maternal death. In addition, racial inequities are embedded in our current health care system, making care less accessible and less responsive to Black mothers and children as it should be, regardless of socio-economic status.

Later in the discussion, Start Early President Diana Rauner added how, “the COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated the stressors that exist for Black women and health care providers in under-resourced communities.”

Fortunately, Dr. Joia and Diana shared many solutions for overcoming this avoidable and tragic reality – services, such as doulas and home visiting, and programs that offer universal newborn supports, which are proven to ultimately reach more under-resourced families. In addition, Dr. Joia noted that, “… we [need to] stop racializing things like Medicaid. We all need health care, not just Black people.”

Start Early’s direct-service programs provide critical supports to young parents for building strong relationships with their baby and creating a safe and stimulating home environment. It is programs like these that can ensure all new moms and babies, including Black moms and babies, receive the quality physical and emotional care they need and deserve.

Watch the Webinar Recording

Thank you again to Dr. Joia for spending time with Start Early and bringing such a critical topic to the forefront of your work.

Starting Early Begins With…

Early Childhood Advocacy. Prenatal & Maternal Health Care. Economic & Workforce Stability.

About the Series

Decades of research have proven that quality early learning and care programs can have positive multi-generation impact, lifting families out of poverty and setting a foundation for success. Start Early invites you to a three-part discussion series with experts who will offer critical solutions to make equal opportunity to these programs a reality. While each virtual event offers a different perspective and topic, this series comprehensively covers concrete and evidence-based solutions for combating one of society’s most complex problems – generational poverty.

Our Starting Early Begins With… three-part speaker series kicked off with a panel discussion between early childhood experts who shared the true power of advocacy in today’s world. One of the biggest takeaways? As one panelist stated, “… we are all advocates every day for various things, whether it’s for our children, or for some issue in our neighborhood.”

Panelists shared promising examples of advocacy efforts, encouraging individuals from all professional backgrounds and motivating interests to use their voice to influence change at local and large-scale levels. And, by centering and amplifying voices of those most directly and disproportionately affected by inequality, we can collectively inspire systematic change.

At Start Early, we know that federal support is necessary for early education programs and services to not only operate, but also to reach our children and families living in under-resourced communities. One panelist noted that the current pandemic has demonstrated how truly essential child care is and its influence on every American – whether it be through the workplace or in a community. That said, in order to ensure our child care system can rebuild back better, we need to share these diverse stories and perspectives with local, state and federal leaders.

Watch the Webinar Recording

The discussion was filled with tidbits of information, thoughts and viewpoints that proved advocacy works, and that anyone can be an advocate on behalf of someone or something they care about.

Thank you to our wonderful panelists:

  • Jessie Rasmussen, President, Buffett Early Childhood Fund
  • Sarah Rittling, Executive Director, First Five Years Fund
  • Blythe Keeler Robinson, CEO, Sheltering Arms
  • Christina Walker, Director Policy & Advocacy, Clayton Early Learning
  • Moderator: Diana Rauner, President Start Early

Starting Early Begins With…

Early Childhood Advocacy. Prenatal & Maternal Health Care. Economic & Workforce Stability.

About the Series

Decades of research have proven that quality early learning and care programs can have positive multi-generation impact, lifting families out of poverty and setting a foundation for success. Start Early invites you to a three-part discussion series with experts who will offer critical solutions to make equal opportunity to these programs a reality. While each virtual event offers a different perspective and topic, this series comprehensively covers concrete and evidence-based solutions for combating one of society’s most complex problems – generational poverty.

In this blog, Amanda Stein, Start Early director of research and evaluation, shares findings and takeaways from our latest research study of pre-K access and enrollment policies in Chicago which aimed to remove obstacles and drive engagement for children and families in underserved neighborhoods.

Equity-Focused Research and Policymaking
At this poignant time, a public health crisis is both holding a magnifying glass to and further exacerbating racial and economic disparities and systemic injustices for young children and their families. The need for equity-focused policy making and research has never been more pronounced. And the field of early care and education (ECE) is no exception.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), in their 2019 position statement on advancing equity in ECE, defines equity as “the state that would be achieved if individuals fared the same way in society regardless of race, gender, class, language, disability, or any other social or cultural characteristic.” This means eliminating “differences in educational outcomes as a result of who children are, where they live, and what resources their families have.”

The Value of Early Care and Education
Given the well-established body of research evidence, there is no doubt that the type and quality of ECE experiences children receive both inside and outside of the home have an impact on their short-term learning and development and later life success. Furthermore, public investments in early education and intervention programs generate savings that benefit the economy long-term.

Yet children, their families, and the broader society are unable to reap the benefits of high-quality ECE programs if children and families are not able to access them. Existing research evidence shows that differential access is an important contributing factor to inequities in enrollment. The long-term benefits associated with strong care and education in the early years make these disparities particularly concerning.

A Focus on Pre-K Access and Enrollment in Chicago
Recently, Start Early partnered with a group of researchers from NORC at the University of Chicago, UChicago Consortium on School Research and policymakers in Chicago to explore whether and how policy efforts in the city helped to create more equity within the district’s early education system for high priority students. We examined access and enrollment to school-based pre-K in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), before and after significant policy changes that began in 2013-14, with a focus on re-allocating pre-K classrooms to schools throughout the city and increasing the number of full-day pre-K classrooms.

The overall goal was to improve access and enrollment for high-priority groups to help them better prepare for success in kindergarten and beyond – including students of color, students speaking a language other than English and students living in neighborhoods with lower income and higher unemployment.

Adopting A Neighborhood-Centered Approach in Chicago
In addition to examining changes in pre-K access and enrollment, we used a “neighborhood-centered” method to explore patterns of access and enrollment based on the neighborhood where students resided.

Our methodology resulted in a concise set of five neighborhoods groupings focused on the characteristics of residents and variations within communities, which is critical to informing policy decisions about how to most equitably allocate services, supports, and resources.

What We Learned: Evidence of Greater Equity
Prior to Chicago’s policy changes in 2013-14, White students and students living in the highest-income neighborhoods had the greatest number of full-day pre-K classrooms nearby and were most likely to enroll in full-day pre-K.

We found evidence of improvements following the policy changes:

  • A larger portion of CPS elementary schools offered full-day pre-K, students lived an average of 0.6 miles closer to a school with at least one full-day pre-K and full-day pre-K enrollment rates grew nearly four-fold during the study.
  • Enrollment tripled in school-based full-day pre-K among Black students and students living in lowest-income neighborhoods.
  • Latinx students were more likely to enroll in full-day pre-K, at slightly lower levels than other groups.

Watch the Webinar Recording

To further explore what we learned, check out the recording of our webinar, Advancing Equity in Pre-K Access and Enrollment in Chicago: A Conversation with Researchers, Policymakers and Parent Leaders.

Key Learnings for Future Policy and Research
Although the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Chicago’s post-policy progress and resulted in decreased enrollment rates, our study illustrates how increasing access to school-based, full-day pre-K may be an effective policy strategy for increasing enrollment among high-priority students and making pre-K opportunities more equitable. It is a prime example of research informing policy and vice versa.

However, to truly address equity in ECE we need to rethink our systems, advance research and policy agendas that ensure sociodemographic characteristics do not predict a child’s outcomes, and integrate these efforts into the comprehensive services and supports we provide young children and families.

Continue the Conversation
Join the Early Childhood Connector to learn from and collaborate with peers and experts in the ECE field, as we continue our work to improve access for our youngest learners.

Diana Rauner, president of Start Early and Dr. James Heckman, the Nobel prize-winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago kicked off last month’s ASU-GSV Digital Summit with a discussion on the state of innovation in early childhood.

Their discussion ranged from Heckman’s work on long-term impacts of early childhood investments, new ways of measuring social and emotional outcomes, and the importance of investing in parents during these unprecedented times. A video of the discussion and key takeaways are below.

Research on the Long-term Impacts of Investing in Parenting

Rauner and Heckman spoke at length about his research and the importance of investing in parents. While we typically think of education as programs that are delivered directly to a child, Rauner noted that programs such as prenatal services, universal newborn supports and home visits should be considered education initiatives given their profound connection to children’s education outcomes.

The discussion also touched on how increased parental engagement is one of the most interesting findings of the Perry Preschool Project. In addition to being more likely to be employed, have completed more education and to have stayed married, the Perry participants turned out to be better parents. In an upcoming study of Perry participants through age 55, Heckman shared that he expects to see returns on investment of more than 10 percent, given the additional health benefits and impacts on the children of participants.

Parental Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Turning the conversation to the present, Rauner and Heckman discussed our nation’s current circumstances and the tremendous stress families are under, especially those living in communities that are under-resourced. Rauner noted that the most important supports for families during the COVID-19 pandemic have been to support family functioning — helping parents be able to be emotionally present and reducing the level of trauma and stress in the home existing from issues like food or housing insecurity.

The discussion also touched on how technology can be used to help coach parents, including virtual cohort groups and telehealth home visits that provide a lifeline of community and mental health supports for parents who might otherwise be completely isolated.

Emerging Measures to Evaluate Readiness and Social and Emotional Skills

As early childhood development continues to evolve, particularly in response to the current environment, one key question is how to effectively measure readiness and incorporate social and emotional skills into every stage of assessment. Heckman shared that grades are often used to measure knowledge and cognition, but social and emotional skills have a significant impact on children’s grades — as evidenced by his findings of Perry Preschool participants who had improved grades because they were more engaged in school. In addition to broadening how we evaluate children’s progress, Heckman emphasized the importance of longitudinal studies, given their unique ability to demonstrate the long-term impact of early childhood interventions. The discussion concluded with the importance of continued collaboration among economists, early childhood education researchers, investors, philanthropists and psychologists to continue advancing the field.

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