Next week, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is holding the first two of its three fall budget hearings, the first step in determining next year’s proposed education budget for the state. These hearings provide the early childhood advocacy community an opportunity to help shape the state’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget proposal. Please consider participating *virtually or in-person * in requesting a $75 million increase in state funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG) and to continue and grow the $5 million investment to improve inclusion supports for children with disabilities and developmental delays.

Here’s how you can participate in the ISBE budget hearing process:

  1. Visit, and enter your name and contact information.
  2. Choose the hearing you’ll attend or select the option for submitting a written testimony. Written requests must be received by ISBE no later than Oct. 31.
  3. Under the “Add Program Request” drop-down menu select “Early Childhood Education”
  4. Enter $75,000,000.00 under the “Additional Requested Funding” section.
  5. Under the field that begins with “Please provide the Board with a description of your funding request,” you will need to put further detail on the $75 million ask.

Upcoming Budget Hearings:

  • Oct. 3, 4-7 p.m. CT (In-person in Springfield)
    Must submit a written funding request online by Sept. 28
  • Oct. 5, 4-7 p.m. CT (Virtual)
    Registration deadline is Oct. 2 at 11:59 p.m.
  • Oct. 30, 1-4 p.m. CT (Virtual)
    Registration deadline is Oct. 25 at 11:59 p.m.

General Tips to Testify at ISBE’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Hearings:

  • Use your time wisely as oral testimony is being limited to three (3) minutes per person.
  • Be sure to personalize your testimony with your own perspective.
  • Compose your testimony with an introduction, early childhood needs, the $75 million ask and conclusion.
  • Use your own words as much as possible, for variety and authenticity.

Contact us if you plan to testify or have questions. Thank you for speaking up for children and families across the state!

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Late summer marks the beginning of the return-to-school season for K-12 teachers across the country. Yet within the early learning field, child care educators work year-round providing care for our youngest learners while earning low wages and working under difficult conditions.

According to 2021 survey data from the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the median wage for early childhood assistant teachers was $12.00 per hour and for early childhood lead teachers, the median wage was $14.29.1 In terms of benefits, only approximately half of centers are able to offer health insurance.1 Not only is compensation abysmally low, but child care teachers work long hours to reflect the unique care schedules of families.

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Our child care workforce is greatly undervalued despite the critical role they play in our children’s and families’ lives. Since their work is rarely acknowledged or appreciated, it has become increasingly challenging to recruit and retain early educators. Less staff means fewer open classrooms and more difficulty finding care. This is especially true for infant and toddler slots since infant-toddler teachers are paid the least in their field, despite working under the most difficult conditions.  

As a nation, we have failed to recognize the importance of the early childhood workforce—public investment for early care and education is embarrassingly low. This has occurred despite research showing that young children’s brains develop fastest during the birth to age 5 period and that having access to a quality program can help boost their outcomes later in life. Having a nurturing, safe, and healthy place to learn during the early years can help close the opportunity gap and give all children the ability to thrive.

Our early childhood workforce arrives at work every day to provide care for our youngest and most vulnerable students, simply because of their passion for working with young children. As a society, our failure to acknowledge child care staff as essential further hurts not only the field, but children and families who rely on care. This back-to-school season let’s make sure we recognize and thank the early childhood teachers that allow parents and caregivers to go to work while their child(ren) thrive at their early learning program. 

Norton, Jordan, Rachel Salrin, Corinne Lee, and Joellyn Whitehead. n.d. Illinois Salary and Staffing Survey of Licensed Child Care Facilities Fiscal Year 2021. Springfield, IL: Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.


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July marked the beginning of the City of Chicago’s annual budget process, the first for Mayor Brandon Johnson. The City’s new administration has made clear their commitment to K-12 education and they are advocating for increasing quality learning opportunities and supports for all students. It’s our hope that the Mayor and City Council will consider including Chicago’s early childhood care and education system in their education and health priorities. Many early childhood programs in Chicago received a much needed influx of investment from ARPA relief dollars to help stabilize and support their programs. However, many of those funds will come to a cliff in the next few years. Now is the time to increase local investment to support Chicago families and follow in the State’s footsteps of prioritizing early childhood education in the budget.

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Continuing the efforts of last year’s budget advocacy, an ever-growing coalition of service providers, advocates, and families have written a letter detailing our shared budget requests. Our collective recommendations urge the Mayor and City Council to invest additional funds into Chicago’s early childhood care and education system.

At the core of our recommendations is a continued appeal to address the worsening early childhood workforce crisis. The City should increase funding for the Chicago Early Childhood Workforce Scholarship. Since the scholarship’s inception, it has annually received more applicants than there is funding to serve, while staffing shortages throughout the city cause significant service delays for some programs. Further, the City should also support pay parity in wages between early childhood professionals in school-based and community-based settings. Funds from the City Corporate Fund should be used to increase compensation for these essential workers in the short-term while working to structurally address the gap. It is critical that the early childhood workforce be acknowledged for their contributions to the future leaders of Chicago.

Advocates also call upon the Mayor’s Office to strengthen governance and continue infrastructure investments to include additional roles in the Mayor’s Office to focus on key areas of coordination and utilize the collective expertise of the standing public-private table, Every Child Ready Chicago. Infrastructure investments should target the Chicago Early Learning application and referral system to make the user experience more parent and provider friendly, and display the same information about community-based options as school-based enrollment options. To further elevate parent and community voice, the City should invest in Community Collaborations to promote Chicago Early Learning engagement and enrollment at the local level. Each program offering in Chicago’s mixed delivery system is important and parents should have the resources to decide what is the best option for their family.

Many of our budget requests echo last year’s, underscoring the critical investments needed in strategic sectors of Chicago’s early childhood care and education system. Start Early and our partner advocates, providers and families will continue our advocacy until these investments to support Chicago’s early childhood system are seen.

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Chicago’s new mayor, Brandon Johnson, has taken office at a pivotal time for shaping the future of Chicago’s early care and education system. Last week, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which includes an historic $300 million increase in statewide investments in the state’s core early care and education supports for families with young children. Much of this funding will benefit the over 200,000 children ages birth-5 in the city.

Outlined below are just some of the most notable impacts of Illinois’ newest budget on Chicago’s youngest learners and those who support their healthy development and education.


Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start plan includes a welcome increase of $75 million (12.5%) in state funding for preschool, evidence-based home visiting services and center-based infant-toddler programs funded by the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG) at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). As is required by state statute, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will receive 37% of this increase, which translates to roughly $27.75 million.

Of this allocated funding, CPS has traditionally held on to 60% to fund their school-based pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) programs and sub-granted the remaining 40% to Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), which are used to fund home visiting and center-based services in community-based programs. This breaks down to roughly $16.65 million more in funding directly for CPS’ pre-K programs and an additional $11.1 million in funding for DFSS-funded community-based early childhood programs.

With Chicago Public Schools recently having achieved universal pre-k for all 4 year-olds in the city, Start Early urges the district to consider how these additional funds coming to the city can support the infrastructure for these pre-k slots, including growing the early childhood workforce, targeting supports for children with disabilities and English learners and strengthening the birth-3 care pipeline that lays the foundation for later success in school.

EARLY INTERVENTION: $40 Million Increase

This astounding 34.5% increase in state funding for Early Intervention (EI) comes at a time when Chicago families continue to experience decreased access to services and long waitlists for children ages 0-3 with disabilities, due to a shortage in the EI workforce. These funds will be used to issue a much-needed 10% rate increase for EI providers beginning July 1, 2023.

EARLY CHILDHOOD INCLUSION: $5 Million in New Funding

Through the state budget, the Illinois State Board of Education will receive $5 million in brand-new funding directed toward supporting inclusion in schools and community-based early childhood settings for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays. Chicago Public Schools and Chicago’s six federal Head Start grant recipients have already been working together over the last year to build a plan for ensuring that children with disabilities who are enrolled in community-based early childhood programs have access to inclusive special education services in the least restrictive environment. This new ISBE funding signals a commitment to supporting the statewide infrastructure that makes efforts like the one in Chicago possible.

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Understanding how these additional funds are being allocated by the state to support families with young children is especially important as we head into the City of Chicago’s budget season. Early childhood advocates, providers and families have already worked together to identify funding gaps and submit recommendations to Mayor Johnson’s administration for the city’s investment of local funds to best serve the city’s early learning system.

Read Start Early’s analysis of the state budget to learn about other important legislative measures impacting the state’s early care and education system.

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Early Saturday morning, the Illinois General Assembly approved the state’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY 2024) spending plan, which contains historic investments in the early care and education system, including proposed measures outlined in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s multi-year Smart Start Illinois plan.

Start Early is thrilled that the final budget contains nearly $300 million in new state funding for child care, preschool, home visiting, the Early Intervention (EI) program, and inclusion supports for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays.

“Today is a remarkable day for young Illinoisans and their families,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner said. “The General Assembly passed a budget that directs significant state funding to a set of bedrock early childhood programs families know, benefit from and love. We thank the legislature for funding the first year of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois plan, and we stand ready to work with the administration and the General Assembly to continue building and strengthening the early childhood system Illinois children and families deserve.” 

With these dollars, more families will gain the access they need to critical early learning programs, and many in the early childhood workforce will see long-overdue increases in pay. Early Intervention providers, for instance, will receive a 10% rate increase come July 1, 2023, and the administration has promised to issue grants to child care providers that will allow them to increase salaries for teachers and staff. The state will also have new resources to further strengthen and expand its nation-leading system of home visiting services. Along with the creation of thousands of new preschool slots in schools and child care centers throughout Illinois, communities will be able to use additional education funding to further deepen services for families with infants and toddlers, like home visiting. 

Here are the specifics:

  • $170 million (41.4%) increase for the child care system at IDHS
  • $75 million (12.5%) increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant at ISBE
  • $40 million (34.5%) increase for the Early Intervention (EI) program at IDHS
  • $5 million (27.9%) increase for evidence-based home visiting programs at IDHS
  • $5 million in brand-new funding at ISBE to support inclusion in schools and community-based early childhood settings for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays
  • $50 million in new, one-time funding from the Build Illinois fund for the Early Childhood Construction Grant (ECCG) program (though in an unexpected policy change with which we disagree, funds will be directed only to school districts in FY 2024)

Several other important measures impacting the early care and education system – and the families and workforce who are a part of it – have been approved by the legislature this session, including:

  • HB3817 (Rep. Gordon-Booth, Sen. Sims), the FY24 budget implementation bill, which:
    • Makes permanent the current income eligibility threshold (225% of FPL) for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
    • Establishes in law parts of the governor’s Smart Start Illinois plan,
  • SB1794 (Sen. Pacione-Zayas, Rep. Ortiz) – establishes in law the existing IDHS home visiting programs
  • SB2390 (Sen. Pacione-Zayas, Rep. West) – among other changes to address teacher vacancies in the state, extends for five years the current staffing flexibility that allows early childhood educators with a Level 5 from Gateways to Opportunity to teach in a Preschool For All classroom provided they are working to secure their teaching license
  • HB2396 (Rep. Canty, Sen. Lightford) – requires each school board to establish a developmentally appropriate full-day kindergarten program by the 2027-2028 school year

We expect the Governor to sign and approve this final budget package soon. 

This suite of policy changes and funding increases was made possible by the commitment and diligent efforts of advocates across the state! Throughout the spring legislative session, parents, educators and advocates contacted state legislators thousands of times on behalf of Illinois families and those who serve them. We encourage you to reach back out to Governor Pritzker and your elected officials to thank them for prioritizing early childhood programs and services that set up our youngest learners for health and success in school and in life. 

Lee la declaración en español

The Governor’s multi-year Smart Start Illinois proposal includes important and unprecedented increases to home visiting programs: a $75 million proposed increase to the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG) under the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), which includes the Prevention Initiative home visiting program, as well as a $5 million increase to the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) home visiting programs. Passage of the Governor’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget and implementation of Smart Start Illinois will have a significant impact on home visiting services in Illinois by bolstering supports to recruit and retain a diverse and highly-qualified workforce and dramatically expanding the reach of programs to serve more children and families.

Illinois has a long and robust history of supporting home visiting services as a key pillar in the continuum of infant/early childhood services that strengthen the caregiver-child relationship and connect families to vital community resources to support long-term healthy development and well-being. Annually, Illinois serves an estimated 22,000 families across multiple home visiting models supported by a mix of state and federal funding streams. But we know that more families could benefit from these services, and that the home visiting workforce is at a crisis point with low wages driving turnover, which impacts family retention.

Start Early recommends that increased funds should be used to raise wages for home visitors to sustainable and respectful levels, as well as expand program access, particularly for prenatal and doula services and improve access to these services for families with infants and toddlers. As ISBE and IDHS work to grow the reach of programs, funding should also be used for capacity building or a separate funding opportunity to help start new programs in needed areas, as well as for supports, such as Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, and enhancements for programs serving priority populations.

Much has been accomplished in the home visiting system and this proposal can work to make permanent advances to the system – including innovations in service delivery and additional professional supports – that were gained using federal pandemic relief funding. Looking ahead, to lay the groundwork for Smart Start Illinois, the state agencies that fund home visiting will need to ensure there is a coordinated approach to implementing funding increases, workforce supports and compensation adjustments, and other infrastructure improvements.

The proposal must now be approved by the Illinois General Assembly and we urge you to encourage your legislators to pass a fiscal year 2024 budget that aligns with Smart Start Illinois. Babies do not come with instruction manuals, but home visiting may be the next best thing. This significant investment in home visiting programs will ensure that more families of young children thrive–and our babies can’t wait. 

This blog post is the fourth in a series outlining the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

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This blog series outlines the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

Ms. Clarissa Sepulveda, a Chicago Public Schools Pre-K Diverse Learner Teacher at Rodolfo Lozano School, left her previous job as an educator and early intervention provider at a community-based early learning program because she could earn more working in schools.

“First of all, the support at community-based programs is not enough. Our ratio was always super high, the stress was immense for the pay we would get. And you’re talking about people who have so many degrees. I started with my Associate’s, then Bachelor’s, Bilingual Endorsement, Special Education Endorsement. No matter what you got, it didn’t matter.” – Ms. Clarissa Sepulveda

Now, as a school Diverse Learner Teacher, Ms. Sepulveda and her colleagues also constantly witness the lack of support priority populations (e.g., English Learners and students with disabilities) receive in preschool classrooms. To address this and other issues, Governor Pritzker proposed the multi-year Smart Start Illinois plan that will provide an additional $75 million in fiscal year 2024 (FY24) for the Early Childhood Block Grant, a program administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The Early Childhood Block Grant provides support for the Preschool for All, Preschool for All Extension, and Prevention Initiative programs. The additional funds will help the state continue increasing compensation and providing support for the early childhood workforce, particularly those employed by community-based organizations or working with infants and toddlers. It will also target child care deserts and will create five thousand new preschool slots. Families and providers across the state have been demanding for more child care and preschool access, and this investment will help create the additional slots needed for more diverse learners, like the students Ms. Sepulveda cares for day in, day out. But supporting and properly compensating the workforce who will care for our children is of top priority. Learn more about how Smart Start will address the workforce compensation issues for community-based providers.

As a final note from early childhood educators to policy makers, “Go to the real community-based child care programs that are rated low and see why they’re rated low. It’s not the teachers, it’s just the services and the lower your program is rated, the less money you get. Which is so backwards, because to us the reason they’re doing bad is because they need more funds.” – Ms. Clarissa Sepulveda.

The time to invest in the workforce that supports our youngest learners is now–our babies can’t wait.

If you are or know of a community-based organization providing early childhood education and services to Illinois’ youngest learners and are looking for additional funds, please visit the Illinois State Board of Education’s fiscal year 2024 request for proposal (RFP). Applicants may also attend a technical assistance session hosted by ISBE May 23 at 10 a.m. 

This blog post is the third in a series outlining the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

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This blog series outlines the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

In early February, Governor Pritzker announced Smart Start Illinois, his administration’s proposal to make the largest investments in early care and education that the field has seen in a generation. The proposal includes $100 million in funding to build new and expand current child care facilities, an additional $50 million for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), and $130 million to enhance wages for the workforce through child care contracts.

Although Start Early is grateful for the Governor’s renewed attention to child care to begin his second term – we simply cannot stop at Smart Start’s investments because in the long-term, this funding is not sufficient to create a robust child care system that works for all children and families in Illinois. Far too many families across the state cannot access child care, much less high-quality care, due to its exorbitant cost and the lack of available classroom slots. According to Start Early’s Infant & Toddler Child Care Roadmap report, licensed child care centers have the capacity to care for only 17.4% of the state’s infants and toddlers.

The earliest years in a child’s life are the most critical years for brain development, yet infant/toddler child care is by far the most difficult type of care to secure in Illinois. It is the most expensive form of care due to low teacher-child ratios (1:4) and it’s often not seen as desirable work because of its physical nature and very low pay. In fact, infant/toddler teachers throughout the state are typically paid less than their peers. Teachers who care for our youngest learners deserve better and unless we raise teacher salaries, we will not have the workforce to increase child care slots.

Child care in Illinois is on shaky ground and without substantial long-term investments for the sector, young children and their caregivers will not be given the opportunity to thrive. We need greater dedicated funding to expand child care slots in every region of the state and to provide early educators with higher wages that allow them to not only live comfortably, but flourish in their communities.

The proposed funding within Smart Start must only be the beginning for our state’s early care and education system. Yet the Illinois General Assembly will not approve these initial budget investments without pressure from advocates like you. Now is the time for greater advocacy from all of us because babies can’t wait.

This blog post is the second in a series outlining the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

More From This Series

This blog series outlines the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

On April 18, Start Early along with our partners at Child Care For All, COFI, Illinois Action for Children, Raising Illinois, SEIU, and We, the Village brought over 300 advocates down to Springfield to advocate for Illinois’ youngest learners. Advocates shared policy briefs outlining the impact that Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative would have on our early childhood systems as well as Raising Illinois’ Babies Can’t Wait postcards highlighting the struggles & successes Illinois families have had with Early Intervention. We were honored to be joined by Governor Pritzker himself, as well as Lieutenant Governor Stratton, who both addressed advocates in the Rotunda as part of the day’s events.

Photo Gallery

Flip through photos from Early Childhood Advocacy Day 2023

ECAD 2023

With about a month left in this legislative session, we aren’t easing up our advocacy efforts! Here’s how you can still participate:

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Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s proposed Smart Start Illinois initiative calls for a historic investment of $40 million for the Early Intervention (EI) program in FY 24 to increase provider reimbursement rates, address service coordination challenges and accommodate growing caseloads.

Illinois’ EI program provides a range of critical family-centered developmental and social-emotional services, including speech and language, occupational and physical therapies and social work services to nearly 27,000 infants and toddlers with developmental delays, disabilities or certain medical conditions across the state to ensure they have the best chance for healthy development. EI services have been shown to improve developmental outcomes for young children, support families to better meet their child’s developmental needs from an early age and reduce future educational costs to our communities and the state by minimizing the need for special education services. Nearly half of children who participated in Early Intervention are functioning within age expectations by pre-K, and of those who exit functioning below age expected levels, 75% substantially increased their rate of growth by pre-K.

Research shows that the first three years are a critical time to intervene because it is when a child’s developing brain is most capable of change, and we know that EI services are most effective when provided earlier in life. Despite this, infants and toddlers with delays and disabilities and their families are currently experiencing historically high service delays and barriers to accessing the Early Intervention system at every step of the process. This includes thousands of families waiting to complete the intake/evaluation and Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) development process, and many more waiting to receive services after their IFSPs are created as waitlists for services have nearly doubled from FY 22 to FY 23.

Without access to the EI services they are legally entitled to, infants and toddlers with delays and disabilities are falling through the cracks each day and many age out of EI while still waiting for services to be initiated. There has been a historic groundswell of advocacy among families and the EI provider community through grassroots organizing, with thousands of petition signatures collected and letters sent to legislators, and over a hundred postcards from families sharing their experiences. As one parent shared, “My son is currently waiting for services to start. He isn’t able to communicate with us. He isn’t able to tell us when he is hungry, thirsty or in pain. It’s very frustrating for him.”

The challenges families are experiencing with accessing services are primarily due to the ongoing EI workforce crisis. Most Illinois providers, who largely work as fee-for-service independent contractors, must cover their own health insurance and travel costs—both of which are increasing—and are not compensated for missed or canceled appointments, leading to inconsistent income for providers. As a result, EI providers, many of whom have advanced degrees, are choosing to leave EI and work instead in hospitals, schools, private practice or other settings with better benefits and higher pay. Severely lagging reimbursement rates make it difficult to keep up with cost-of-living increases, and EI providers have only received three nominal reimbursement rate increases in nearly two decades. In addition to the provider shortage, high caseloads and low compensation for service coordinators at the 25 Child and Family Connections (CFC) offices across the state have led to high turnover and vacancies, having a substantial impact on families trying to get into the EI system.

While we applaud the Governor’s promise of historic funds and particular attention to Early Intervention, we know that this is only the start of the critical long-term investment needed to maintain the system and to truly recruit and retain the EI workforce. Without immediate action to address the workforce challenges, more personnel will leave the system entirely, causing further harm to children and families. We urge the Illinois General Assembly to approve a FY 24 budget this spring that includes, at a minimum, the funding proposals laid out by the Governor and to advocate for additional improvements to the system. We couldn’t agree more that the time to act is now—babies cannot wait.

This blog post is the first in a series outlining the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.

More From This Series

This blog series outlines the Early Childhood components of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, a proposed multi-year investment in our state’s Early Intervention, Child Care, Home Visiting, and Pre-K systems.