On March 8, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Education and Workforce Equity Act (HB 2170), the state’s latest commitment to advance racial equity throughout its education system.
Start Early applauds the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus for championing this comprehensive and momentous legislation, which tackles improving racial equity in every portion of the education continuum, including starting with our very youngest learners.
See below for an outline of early childhood provisions included in this legislation.
- Extend Early Intervention (EI) services to three-year olds until their next school year begins. This allows children receiving Early Intervention (EI) services prior to their third birthday and are found eligible for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in preschool to remain in the EI program until the beginning of the school year following their third birthday. (Their third birthday must fall between May 1st and August 31st.) This change will minimize gaps in services, ensure better continuity of care, and align practices for enrollment of preschool children with special needs to the enrollment practices of typically developing preschool children.
- Establish the Early Education Act, which contains legislative findings that Early Intervention services are cost-effective. The Act encourages the IDHS to prepare and submit a report to the ILGA on the use of the “at-risk” category for eligibility of EI services and an affirmative outreach plan for dissemination of information about the category. The Act also encourages the development of specialized teams to address the complex needs that sometimes arise in the provision of services and to launch a demonstration project with the goal of better coordination and timely connections between neonatal intensive care units and Early Intervention services.
- Establish in state law a kindergarten readiness assessment, an observational tool designed to help teachers, administrators, families, and policymakers better understand the developmental readiness of children entering kindergarten. Illinois began requiring the administration of its kindergarten readiness assessment several years ago, but unlike other state education assessments, there is no current reference to it in law. This formalizes the State Board’s current policy in statute, allowing schools, districts, and the state to understand better where our young learners need support to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
- Establish the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultations Act, which encourages the state to increase the availability of Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (I/ECMHC) services through increased funding, encourages relevant state agencies to develop and promote improved materials for families and providers, and encourages relevant state agencies to provide more data on early childhood expulsions, among other things.
- Require behavioral health services providers for children under 5 to use a developmentally appropriate diagnostic assessment and billing system. Previously, state law required that Medicaid diagnosis codes for behavioral health services in young children must be coded by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Classification of Diseases, which are not developmentally appropriate for young children. The new legislation requires the use of DC 0-5 diagnostic codes for children under 5 and publicize the existing crosswalk to the ICD-10 codes for billing purposes.
- Establish the Early Childhood Workforce Act, which recognizes the critical role of the early childhood workforce. It encourages IDHS to offer targeted outreach and financial support to those seeking to increase their credentials while prioritizing diversity and communities with the greatest shortages. It provides annual reports on those receiving scholarships and encourages agencies to prioritize reaching compensation parity between early childhood and its K-12 peers.
- Establish the Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Act, which recognizes the role that high-quality early childhood experiences have on children’s short and long-term outcomes. The act also demonstrates support of the Illinois General Assembly for the goals of the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding and encourages the state to create an implementation planning process and timeline with a designated body accountable for implementing the Commission’s recommendations.