We are excited to share our annual 2022 Year in Review, which showcases and celebrates accomplishments and growth from the last fiscal year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022).

In 2022, we celebrated our 40th anniversary and continued to expand and refine our services to children and families.

Through our innovative and comprehensive work at local, state and federal levels, Start Early impacted nearly every facet of the early education system with a deliberate focus on reaching more young children through quality early learning and care experiences that can set them up for a lifetime of health and success.

2022 Year in Review

This work would not have been possible without the collaboration and efforts of our partners. We are thankful to all of our supporters over the past 40 years for their help in making this work a reality. We are champions for early learning, and together, we can transform lives.

Ahead of Illinois’ midterm and gubernatorial elections next month, in a recent survey, voters across the state made it clear that they want to see increased attention towards early childhood services. In fact, the vast majority of survey respondents believe that investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars – and most would even be willing to pay more in taxes to fund it.

Start Early conducted this latest survey on behalf of state advocates to measure the level of support for early education among voters. The results were unequivocal – Illinois voters value early childhood education and care and want to see government action.

Eight in 10 voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars. Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in Chicago’s suburbs (53%), a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars. A majority of voters (56%), including nearly 75% of Black voters, went even further to say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children.

While partisanship continues to divide voters in many other policy areas, the survey’s findings also demonstrated that the early childhood education and care discussion goes far beyond political lines: 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents and 70% of Republicans support government action and investment in early childhood programs and services.

Home to approximately 800,000 children under age 5, Illinois has a prominent history of investing in early care and education, spanning four decades under leadership of both Republican and Democratic state administrations. As the state prepares for its midterm elections, most timely is the survey’s bipartisan finding that most voters (70%) would feel more favorably towards a candidate who prioritizes an increase in funding for early childhood services.

“While Illinois has long been at the forefront of early learning and care innovations and investments, our system, like that of most states, has its challenges and real shortcomings,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner says. “Without decisive action by our elected Governor and state legislators, critical components of the system will collapse – leaving countless young children and those who care for them behind.”

Decades of research have proven that quality early childhood programs can help break the cycle of poverty for generations to come and can change the trajectory of a child’s life toward healthy development and success. Yet, families – particularly those in communities left under-served – continue to face impossible challenges in accessing such early learning experiences.

As Illinois works to mitigate these challenges, often brought on by systematic inequities, voters reported that funding services for children experiencing homelessness and for children with disabilities or developmental delays should be priority focus areas of the state. Voters also ranked early childhood services as the second most important way to address the root causes of crime, a traumatic reality for far too many young children.

Start Early and its advocate partners across the state are passionately working to advance transformational change of the early childhood system in order to reach families and those who provide early learning services. This powerful survey data reaffirms that Illinois voters share advocates’ desires, and offers policymakers a renewed opportunity this upcoming legislative session to redouble efforts to make early learning a reality for all young children.

Conducted in partnership with Global Strategy Group, the survey of 609 registered voters in Illinois took place between September 8 – 12, 2022, and an intentional focus was placed on ensuring diverse demographic and geographic representation among voters. Interviews were conducted over the phone and text to web.

Key Findings:

  • A majority of overall voters say early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Eight in ten voters say investing in early childhood education and care is a good use of taxpayer dollars.
    • Among key groups like Black voters (55%) and those in the Cook suburbs (53%),a majority believe it to be a very good use of tax dollars.
    • Taking action and using taxpayer dollars to invest in early childhood education and care garners bipartisan support across the political spectrum with 90% of Democrats, 73% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans believing it is a good investment.
  • Most voters are even willing to pay more in taxes to fund early childhood and care services.
    • A majority of voters (56%) say they are willing to pay a little more in taxes if it meant the state had better services for families with young children, including nearly three-quarters of Black voters (72%).
    • Half of voters believe the state government is not spending enough on services for young children and their families, even higher among parents (54%), especially parents of color (52%).
  • Voters believe elected officials are not talking about or focused enough on early childhood services.
    • Half of voters believe their elected officials are not talking enough about early childhood services (52%) and believe they are not focused enough on the issue (53%).
    • This is especially true of key groups like Independents, of whom two-thirds (68%) believe their elected officials are not talking enough about the issue.
    • Similarly, parents of those under the age of six overwhelmingly believe elected officials are not talking about (67%) or focused enough (66%) on early childhood services.
  • According to voters, the state government does not do enough to help new parents and families meet their responsibilities.
    • About half of voters overall believe the state government is not doing enough to help new parents and families.
    • This increases to nearly two-thirds of voters of color (65% of Black voters and 66% of Hispanic voters).
  • Support for this issue goes beyond party lines and has widespread support: 80% of Democrats, 58% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans want the state to fund programs aimed at making childcare more affordable
  • There are many other specific services or programs related to early childhood that share support from a majority of the electorate.
    • Helping those who face the steepest challenges, like homeless children and those with disabilities, is extremely popular across partisan lines.
    • Even 69% of Republicans believe the state should be doing more to fund services to care for children who are homeless and 75% of Independents also feel the same way.
  • Early childhood services are seen as a way to address crime.
    • Illinois voters are concerned about crime (32% rank it as their first or second most important issue) and want to prioritize addressing the root causes of crime early in children’s lives (60%), over short-term actions like tougher sentencing.
    • Addressing root causes are prioritized across the board, including independents (55%) and those in the collar counties (60%).
    • Providing early childhood services ranks second as the most important way to address these root causes.

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two children coloring togetherParents in Chicago often enroll their children ages 3-5 in community-based organizations because they love and trust their local early learning program and because the program provides more convenient hours and comprehensive, year-long services for families. With support from Crown Family Philanthropies, Start Early launched a new initiative this summer in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Chicago’s six federally funded Head Start grant recipients to make special education services more accessible for the city’s children ages 3-5 who are enrolled in community-based Head Start programs.

Currently in the city of Chicago, special education services are not provided in community-based settings where many children are enrolled. Instead, children attend both their community-based program and a school-based program, which involves bus rides and multiple transitions between classrooms in one day. Some parents who rely on community-based settings for early learning may forgo these services that their child needs to avoid distress and challenging behaviors that can follow the multiple transitions.

Even when children receive their special education services in a CPS classroom, those supports do not follow them to their community-based setting. This leaves children unable to fully access and participate in the classroom and it leaves teachers without the support they need to ensure the best quality educational experience. As a result, children may experience barriers to healthy development. The current system also poses long-term challenges for CPS as they work to ensure equitable access to special education and kindergarten readiness for all students.

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The goal of this project is to ensure access to inclusive special education services for all children with disabilities enrolled in community-based early childhood programs in Chicago. To this end, we are working in partnership with families and educators to develop, implement, assess, and institutionalize feasible strategies and approaches for delivering special education services to children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) onsite in the Head Start programs in which they are enrolled.

Start Early staff are nationally recognized leaders in special education for young children. Learn more about Start Early’s recommendations for strengthening early childhood inclusion for young children with disabilities, and contact us to learn how you can support high-quality, accessible education for all young children.

The Crown family has worked for decades alongside Start Early to increase access to equitable, high-quality early education and care for all children and families in Chicago, including recent support for the launch of Every Child Ready Chicago, a public-private partnership to support access to high-quality early childhood education in the city.

Start Early remains grateful to Crown Family Philanthropies as we champion early learning and care and close the opportunity gap for our youngest learners.

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This week, President Joe Biden is expected to approve Congress’ final budget reconciliation package, the Inflation Reduction Act, which does not include one cent for early learning and care programs. This outcome is yet another senseless decision in our nation’s history that leaves countless young children without access to critical programs that can help ensure a brighter future.

This spring, the House of Representatives passed budget reconciliation legislation that included nearly $400 billion for child care and pre-K, which was among the largest proposed investments in the package. However, earlier this month, the Senate unveiled the details of its final package, which included no funding at all for early learning and care.

For a nation’s child care system that is at the brink of collapse, this investment would have considerably lowered child care costs for families, allowed parents of young children to return to work and supported an underfunded and understaffed early learning and care workforce.

Long before today’s ongoing pandemic and societal uncertainty, child care providers, disproportionately women and women of color, have had to bear the burden of an under-resourced child care system to provide critical, quality programs and services to young children.

So, now more than ever, it seemed apparent to finally prioritize American families and child care providers with historic investments. Congress’ failure to do so will result in long-range consequences for our child care system.

Start Early and the Educare Network, however, are and will continue to be constant and persistent champions for our youngest learners. We will:

  • Work with Congress, federal agencies and the administration, as well as state and local leaders, to strengthen early learning and care programs and drive advancements that impact on-the-ground practices and communities
  • Advocate for increased investments in and positive changes to federal early learning programs, including the Child Care Development Block Grant, Head Start/Early Head Start, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Maternal, Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program
  • Educate and inform the field of provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act that may benefit families with young children

In addition, as co-chair of the Early Years Climate Action Task Force, Start Early President Diana Rauner will play a role in drafting the first ever climate action plan for early childhood in America. This will include recommendations to explore how the country can support young children to flourish, despite facing the impacts of climate change.

In response to this disheartening news, Start Early and Educare Network leaders issued the following statements:

Start Early

“Quality early learning and care in the first five years of life allows every child the opportunity to develop and meet their full potential. This week, Congress ignored common sense and science, allowing the child care system to continue deteriorating and leaving future generations behind.

Start Early stands ready to continue its work with local, state and federal leaders to elevate the dire, diverse needs of American families and ultimately make transformational change in access, quality and outcomes for all young children.”

Diana Rauner, president of Start Early

Educare Network

“Every child, in every community, deserves a strong start in life. This final reconciliation package entirely disregards what matters most: creating supports and systems that work for families, our youngest learners and early care and education providers. With our 25 schools and partner organizations across the country, the Educare Network calls on local, state and federal leaders to take immediate action that rights this wrong and drives transformational change to ensure all families, children and communities can thrive.”

Cynthia Jackson, executive director of the Educare Network

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Portia Kennel at an Educare Speaking EngagementAfter a career in early childhood education spanning three decades, Portia Kennel – catalyst and one of the co-founders of the Educare Learning Network, a powerful network of birth-to-five schools that has improved access to high-quality early education across the country – is retiring from her position as Senior Advisor to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

Prior to her time with the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Portia served as the Senior Vice President of Program Innovation at Start Early (formerly the Ounce of Prevention Fund). In 2000, she created the first-ever Educare school in Chicago to serve young children and their families on Chicago’s South Side. As the Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network, Portia led the expansion of the Educare model to a diverse range of communities across the country, from one school in Chicago to 25 schools nationwide.

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“Portia’s passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today,” Diana Rauner, Start Early President and longtime colleague of Portia, shared. “Her drive, perspective and guidance continue to resonate through the halls of our offices and within the values that inform our work. I am so proud of what we created together through the Educare Learning Network, and I believe that the best is yet to come thanks to her foundational presence. The early learning community is grateful for Portia, and we wish her well in this next chapter of life.”

Portia's passion and commitment to serving children the last several decades have helped shape Start Early into the organization that we are today.

Diana Rauner, president, Start Early
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Portia is also a former Head Start Director and has significant experience in the design, implementation and management of effective, evidence-based early childhood education and family support program models. Her work is grounded in an understanding of family systems and clinical issues related to working with families in disinvested communities. She holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and is a ZERO TO THREE Fellow.

“We’re so grateful to Portia for her contribution to the early childhood field broadly, and to the Educare Learning Network specifically,” Cynthia Jackson, Executive Director of the Educare Learning Network and Senior Vice President at Start Early, said. “Twelve years ago, Portia invited me to serve as a leader of leaders in this Network. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve under an African American woman, mentor, teacher, visionary and colleague. Thank you, Portia – from the Network and from me personally. What an innovator you have been.”

Start Early and the Educare Learning Network congratulate Portia on a remarkable career and thank her for the groundbreaking legacy in early childhood education she started with our Network!


Portia Kennel’s Parting Remarks

What a journey this has been! Reflecting on the early days of Educare, my mentor Judy Bertacchi comes to mind. Judy was a pioneer leader in training early childhood staff how to implement and embed reflective supervision into early childhood programs. She always said how important it was to “get the birth story” of each child because it would inform the work you’d do with the family. So, today I am going to share the birth story of Educare, because I believe it will inform the future as the Network goes forward.

The idea for Educare grew out of The Beethoven Project, an initiative began by Start Early (then the Ounce of Prevention) in 1986 to bring early learning programs and other services to communities in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood on the south side. At that time, this neighborhood was home to the Robert Taylor Homes, which was one of the largest public housing developments in the poorest census tract in the country.

When the Chicago Housing Authority began demolishing the Robert Taylor Homes in the late 1990s, many families began leaving the community as public services started to vanish. I have never seen so many thousands of families disappear what seems like overnight. But we decided we were in it for the long haul, and we stayed. It was very important to us, since so many institutions were abandoning these families, that they knew we would not abandon our commitment to them.

That’s why we started building our own early childhood education center: to serve families who were displaced by the loss of their homes and now rebuilding their community, and to create a school whose culture and environment said – and still to this day says – “You matter.” So, we partnered with the city of Chicago, the Office of Head Start, and other private funders to build our first school, Educare Chicago, which we opened in 2000.

And Educare Chicago was just the beginning! Fast forwarding two decades to now, that first school inspired the creation of the Educare Learning Network, 25 schools across the country that are models for high-quality care and education in their communities and nationwide.

I led the expansion of our Network from one school to many for three reasons: to learn from each other, to support each other and problem solve together, and because I hoped that by coming together, our collective power would have a better chance of addressing challenges in the field. What we had in common was a shared interest in showcasing quality in our communities through Educare schools, demonstrating what is possible with services for children and families, and increasing our impact as catalysts for positive change. In other words, I believed we could do more together than any of us could do alone. And in today’s world, our critical work is to continue to harness and leverage the collective power of the Educare Learning Network to transform the early childhood world.

As I now leave the Network, my first hope is that you will increase your collective impact and efforts. The Network has yet to realize its full potential. We all agree changes are needed to address the systemic issues that have plagued the early childhood system for so long: quality, access, workforce recruitment, retention, racism, compensation and more, many of which have been amplified by the pandemic.

My second hope for the future is that in addition to an ongoing focus on racial equity, the Network will prioritize efforts to ensure the systematic and sustained inclusion, participation and leadership of parents in the planning, development, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of early childhood work. That means centering and elevating the voices of parents to ensure their lived experiences inform and help address the challenges the early childhood system faces. As Glenn Martin of JustLeadershipUSA says, I believe those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Investing in parent leaders as early childhood advocates and change agents strengthens our chances for success.

We’re all in this together: parents and families, early childhood leaders, educators, family support practitioners, childcare providers, policymakers, advocates, public and private partners, and communities. We must work together to find solutions.

I thank all of you for what I have learned from you. I thank Jessie Rasmussen and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Diana Rauner and Start Early for all they have done to support the continued growth and development of the Educare Learning Network. The Network would not have been possible without the partnership and support of both organizations, and of course the participation of all of you early childhood champions.

Go forth, Educare Learning Network, and cause some good trouble!

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On Friday, May 28th, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law legislation that will make it easier for many families involved in the child welfare system to access critical early care and education services, like the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and Early Intervention (EI). Public Act 102-926, formerly HB4242, was sponsored by Representative Lakesia Collins and Senator Julie Morrison.

“Children under the age of six make up nearly half of all kids involved in the DCFS system,” Ireta Gasner, Vice President of Illinois Policy at Start Early said. “Because early exposure to trauma, abuse and neglect can damage the architecture of the developing brain, the state must provide access to comprehensive, high-quality early childhood services, which research show can help mitigate the effects of trauma on our youngest learners.”

Among other key provisions, the legislation extends automatic eligibility to the state’s child care program for Youth in Care who are themselves parents.

“Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Law Project is excited to see this important legislation signed. For thirty years, we have heard from our clients about the importance of child care in ensuring the success of their families post-emancipation from the child welfare system,” said Niya Kelly, Director of State Legislative Policy, Equity and Transformation, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Several of the policy proposals included in PA 102-926 were developed by a special working group of the state’s Early Learning Council, which produced recommendations for how to enroll more young children and families with child welfare involvement in high-quality early care and education programs. The working group, supported by staff from Illinois Action for Children and Start Early, included researchers, early childhood professionals, public agency staff, and parents. The committee’s recommendations, developed over the course of a year, included proposed changes to policy and procedure, improvements to data and research, enhanced and expanded supports to families, and strengthened cross-system collaboration.

“We want to thank the Early Learning Council, and especially those from the All Families Served subcommittee of the Council. The working group gathered input directly from parents regarding their experiences accessing critical early childhood services for their children; this engagement with families was instrumental in highlighting opportunities to improve and expand the Child Care Assistance Program and Early Intervention services to more families in the child welfare system,” said April Janney, President & CEO of Illinois Action for Children.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Children’s Home + Aid, Illinois Action for Children, and Start Early applaud the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pritzker for approving such consequential legislation.

Below is an overview of the key provisions included in the new law:

  • Makes parenting youth in care and families on the DCFS Extended Family Support (EFSP) program automatically eligible for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), regardless of income, employment, or education status. The extension of eligibility to the CCAP program for parenting youth in care and those on the EFSP program will make child care more accessible. (This provision becomes effective in July 2023.)
  • Makes infants and toddlers involved in the child welfare system automatically eligible for the Early Intervention (EI) program. Expanding eligibility to EI services for infants and toddlers involved in the child welfare system will ease the pathway into the program for a population of children and families who experience structural and situational barriers to services.
  • Requires DCFS to reimburse child care providers at the same rates paid to providers by IDHS for the CCAP program. Requiring parity in reimbursement rates between IDHS and DCFS will encourage more child care providers to accept reimbursement from DCFS, thus expanding the number of child care options for families involved in the child welfare system.
  • Requires DCFS to report out information on its child care program. The sharing out of data on the child care services provided by DCFS will help policymakers improve programs for families and providers.

Last week, we hosted our 20th Annual Luncheon—our first-ever hybrid event—where we welcomed hundreds of individuals in-person here in Chicago and hundreds of others virtually across the country. Presented by LaSalle Network, the powerful program demonstrated how quality early learning and care programs can promote resilience and hope for families with young children—now more than ever.

If you were unable to join us or want to tune in again, you can watch a recording of the full program below.

Through this powerful program of diverse voices and experiences, we hope you can see the role we each have as parents, family members, friends or colleagues to support our children, families and those who care for them. From spreading the word about early learning’s impact in our communities, to contacting your legislator in support of proposed policies or sharing the gift of financial support, your investment of time or resources will make a difference.

As Luncheon Co-Chair Curt Bailey shared, “adversity brings opportunity, and we have an incredible opportunity to create a new normal that ensures equitable access to quality early learning and programs that promote resilience for every child and family.”

I am overwhelmed with appreciation for the parents, educators and early learning champions, including out Luncheon Co-Chairs Curt Bailey and Mary Hasten, who highlighted the critical need for quality early learning and care programs and services in our communities.

We are grateful for the incredible support and generosity of our donors and event sponsors who helped us exceed our fundraising goal of $1.3 million. Every dollar will help change the course for our youngest learners. You can still show your support by making a gift today. When we come together and invest in early childhood education, we can transform the lives of our future generation.

Luncheon Co-Chair Mary Hasten said it perfectly. “There is certainly more work to be done, but we know that our collective work IS making a difference today, and TOGETHER, we know that we can impact every tomorrow for young children and their families.”

Thank you for being part of our 2022 Annual Luncheon, and we hope to see you again soon.

“Tomorrow’s Hope,” recently featured at SXSW EDU, is the story of passionate educators and tenacious students – from the first-ever class at Educare Chicago – determined to succeed.

The Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation is deeply committed to creating standards of fairness and a level playing field for those living in poverty and adversity by supporting equal treatment through high quality early childhood learning and improving K-12 and college graduation rates. Founded in 1997, the Foundation is focused on opportunities that support educational advancement.

For the past six years, the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation has partnered with Start Early to increase access to equitable, high-quality early education and care for all children and families. Foundation investments in the Early Childhood Connector, First Five Years Fund and the Governor’s Early Childhood Advisors Network, have enhanced our ability to bring coherence to a fragmented field and drive public awareness and systems change. We’ve also worked closely to amplify the films Tomorrow’s Hope and Starting at Zero, both provide compelling rationale for why transformational change is required to ensure future generations of children and families can reach their full potential. Each film has been hailed for its inspiring stories and powerful calls to action.

Tomorrow’s Hope brings us into the lives of passionate educators and tenacious kids and their families on the South Side of Chicago, determined to carve out the future – despite a sea of incredible challenges. The film reunites three graduates from the first class of Start Early’s birth-to-5 school, Educare Chicago, and explores the continued impacts of their early childhood education as they prepare for high school graduation. Starting at Zero explores the power of investing in high-quality early childhood education. The film centers the voices of policymakers, educators, academics, business leaders, pediatricians, parents, and children to demonstrate how essential the earliest years of learning are to maximize human potential.

Earlier this year, Tomorrow’s Hope was accepted into the acclaimed SXSW EDU Film Festival, an unparalleled experience at the forefront of discovery, creativity, and innovation. In March, the film was screened to a live audience, followed by a Q&A panel with co-producers, Tamra Raven and Aaron Steinberg, as well as Portia Kennel, Senior Advisor, Buffett Early Childhood Fund, who was featured in the film.

Producers Tamra Raven and Aaron Steinberg listening to Portia Kennel giving some wisdom. (Photo by Wildman)

Educare was a place of hope, peace, joy, learning, trust and respect – a stark contrast to what was happening in the south side Chicago neighborhood where we were located.

Portia Kennel, senior advisor, Buffett Early Childhood Fund
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Learn more about how you can join the group of donors, policymakers, educators, and community leaders who have hosted virtual screenings of these films to ignite conversations about the importance of early education. During the month of April, both documentaries are available for individuals to view at no charge. Please click below for sign-up information.

Start Early remains grateful to the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation for their ongoing support as we champion together early learning and care for all children and families.


Founded in 1997 and in carrying out its mission, the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation makes charitable contributions that are primarily focused on opportunities for educational advancement.

The Foundation supports programs that assist the homeless, advance early childhood education, improve K-12 graduation rates, provide college scholarships, medical care, shelter and nutrition to the needy, as well as supporting programs to provide assistance for entry into employment opportunities.

The Foundation is deeply committed to creating standards of fairness and a level playing field for those living in poverty and adversity by supporting equal treatment through high quality early childhood learning and improving K-12 and college graduation rates. In this regard, the Foundation supports innovations in scientific teaching methods and best practices.

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The Illinois General Assembly approved the state’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY 2023) spending plan early Saturday morning. We expect Governor J.B. Pritzker will sign the package into law in the coming days.

The final budget (HB900) includes a welcome increase of $54.4 million (10.0% increase) 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).

It also includes $7 million (6.4% increase) in additional funding for the Early Intervention program, fully restoring the FY 22 funding cut. The legislature also appropriated $1 million (6.0% increase) in new funding for Illinois’ Department of Human Services’ evidence-based home visiting programs, the first funding increase in nearly 20 years.

“This budget makes investments in several early childhood programs, including home visiting, and restores state funding of Early Intervention – which are key supports for our state’s youngest learners and their families,” Ireta Gasner, Start Early vice president of Illinois policy, said. “Approving a state spending plan requires difficult and critical decisions, and this year, the Pritzker Administration and the General Assembly made decisions that prioritize services for families with young children.”

State funding in the FY 2023 budget (HB900) includes:

  • A $54.4 million (10%) increase in state funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant at ISBE
  • A $7 million (6.4%) increase in state funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program at IDHS
  • A $536,000 (5.3%) increase for Healthy Families at IDHS
  • A $480,000 (7%) increase in state funding for Maternal Child Home Visiting (formerly Parents Too Soon) at IDHS
  • Level-funding (0.0%) for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) at IDHS, though the administration has committed to increase provider reimbursement rates twice over the next fiscal year
  • A new $2.0 million appropriation to IDHS for deposit into the Off-Hours Child Care Program Fund (see below for further details)
  • A $2.5 million appropriation to the Office of State Treasurer for the Children’s Savings Account Program.

In addition, Start Early and its partners have strongly advocated all year for the need to increase compensation for the early childhood professionals working for community-based organizations. We strongly encourage ISBE and IDHS to allocate a sizeable portion of these funding increases to boost compensation for teachers and staff working in child care centers, home visitors and Early Intervention professionals.

Several other important measures impacting the early care and education system (and the families that use it) have been approved by the legislature, including:

  • HB4242 (Collins, Morrison) – a bill that:
    • Extends automatic eligibility to CCAP for parenting youth in care and families on the DCFS Extend Family Support Program (EFSP)
    • Extends automatic eligibility to EI for infants and toddlers in the child welfare system
    • Requires DCFS to pay child care providers the same reimbursement rates IDHS pays its providers through the CCAP program
    • Requires DCFS to report data on its child care program
  • HB4999 (Gabel, Villanueva) – a bill that codifies into state law the timeline (30 days) by which services for families in the EI program must be initiated after a service plan has been approved
  • HB1571 (Manley, Glowiak Hilton) – a bill that creates the Off-Hours Child Care Program at IDHS to help first responders and other workers identify and access off-hours child care
  • SB3149 (Villanueva, Guzzardi) – a bill that requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and higher education institutions to provide information about the Child Care Assistance Program and the federal dependent care to students eligible for Monetary Award Program grants
  • SB3032 (Fine, Morgan) – a bill that prohibits institutions of higher education from withholding academic transcripts from current or former students because of any unsettled debts with the institution.
  • SB157 (Hastings, Zalewski) – a revenue bill that, among other things, expands the Earned Income Credit benefit for all filers; extends eligibility to the EIC for those aged 18-25, those above 65, and ITIN filers; and provides a one-time child tax credit

Start Early is excited to announce Dionne Dobbins as Vice President of Research and Evaluation. In her role, Dionne will lead the Research & Evaluation division and oversee research efforts under Start Early’s expanded Head Start grant.

“Dionne has dedicated her career to thinking about how child, family, and community outcomes can drive and influence policy efforts. She has a strong interest in using research in applied settings and reaching non-researchers by developing tools and resources relevant to their work,” says Rebecca Berlin, chief learning officer at Start Early.

Most recently, Dionne served as the Sr. Director of Research at Child Care Aware of America, where she set the research agenda for the organization and led a team of researchers in executing it. Notably, she led the production of the popular Child Care Aware of America annual report on the Price of Child Care used among many researchers, policymakers, and advocates. Dionne has led research projects for Head Start, child care, family literacy, military child mental health, and early childhood financing. She is also a former Head Start Fellow who supported the leadership team at the Office of Head Start. She holds a doctorate in applied developmental psychology from the University of Miami and did her postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Dionne’s extensive systems-level, research-to-practice expertise, with a strong understanding of how to create a unified data picture from diverse sources of information will be invaluable to Start Early. We are thrilled to have Dionne join Start Early and support our efforts to produce research and evaluation data that is relatable, easy to understand, and centers equity,” Berlin concludes.

Follow Dionne on LinkedIn.

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