Educare West DuPage teacher reading story to students

Critical Need for Investment in the Early Childhood Block Grant

As part of our series on Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois initiative, Policy Analyst Melissa Maldonado shares more about the impact the increase to the Early Childhood Block Grant would have on programs.

Melissa Maldonado May 11, 2023
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

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.

About the Author

Melissa Maldonado stands in a dark green shirt

Melissa Maldonado

Policy Analyst, Illinois Policy

Melissa Maldonado is a Policy Analyst on the Illinois Policy team at Start Early, where she supports state legislative advocacy efforts in early childhood by working with the legislature and other policymakers in Springfield.

More About Melissa

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.