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Start Early Response to the Approved Illinois Fiscal Year 2025 State Budget

Start Early applauds the Illinois General Assembly for approving a Fiscal Year 2025 budget that includes significant investments for continued expansion and strengthening of the state’s early learning and care system, though concerns remain.

May 29, 2024
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Start Early thanks the Illinois General Assembly for approving a Fiscal Year 2025 state budget that includes significant increases in funding for early care and education programs, funding that aligns with Governor JB Pritzker’s multi-year Smart Start Illinois initiative. 

The final budget, approved by the legislature this week, contains nearly $250 million in new state funding for child care, preschool and home visiting services and the Early Intervention (EI) program. It also includes money to fund first-year operations for the newly-created Illinois Department of Early Childhood. 

Despite these needed and appreciated spending increases, Start Early is very disappointed with final appropriation levels of funding for the Early Intervention (EI) program and the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE) scholarship program. In particular, Start Early had been fighting for a greater increase in EI funding, and we believe the approved budget is inadequate to address the ongoing workforce crisis and historic service delays. 

Illinois FY 2025 budget will benefit children and families by providing considerable funding to several key early learning programs, and we thank Governor JB Pritzker and the General Assembly for their ongoing commitment to children and families, Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner said. We remain deeply concerned, however, that the legislature did not appropriate additional funds beyond the governor’s proposal for Early Intervention and ECACE scholarships. Timely services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays and a well-prepared and compensated workforce are cornerstones of an equitable early childhood system. This budget is a big step forward, but much more work is needed.”

Here are the specifics: 

  • $158.5 million (27.3%) increase for the child care system at Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) for Smart Start Workforce Grants, Quality Contracts, apprenticeships and Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) caseload growth 
  • $75 million (11.1%) increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant at Illinois State Board of Education for expansion of Prevention Initiative center-based and home visiting programs, Preschool for All and Preschool for All Expansion programs 
  • $6 million (3.8%) increase for the Early Intervention (EI) program at IDHS to accommodate caseload growth, but no additional funding for provider rate increases 
  • $5 million (21.8%) increase for evidence-based home visiting programs at IDHS to expand access to services and address compensation improvements 
  • $5 million for the ECACE scholarship program, but no additional funding to ensure candidates currently receiving the scholarship can finish their programs 
  • $14.2 million in operational funding for the new Illinois Department of Early Childhood 

Record levels of service delays continue to plague the EI system – delays linked to a shrinking workforce. Without annual rate increases, providers will continue to leave the program, meaning more infants and toddlers with disabilities and developmental delays will wait for months to receive the life-changing services they are entitled to by law. 

In addition, nearly 2,500 current ECACE scholarship recipients will need further scholarship support to complete their degrees. The lack of early childhood educators has resulted in programs and classrooms closing – limiting the opportunity for families to locate effective services for their children. 

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: 

  • SB1 (Sen. Lightford, Rep. Canty) – authorizes the creation of the Department of Early Childhood 
  • HB4959 (Rep. Gabel, Sen. Sims) – the FY 2025 budget implementation bill, which, among other provisions, codifies into law the ECACE scholarship program 
  • HB4951 (Rep. Burke, Sen. Villanueva) – a revenue omnibus bill, which, among other provisions, establishes a permanent state Child Tax Credit for families eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and have children under age 12 
  • HB5142 (Rep. Gabel, Sen. Collins) – requires, among other provisions, private health insurers to cover all pregnancy, postpartum and newborn care services provided by perinatal doulas or licensed certified professional midwives, including home births, home visits and support during labor. Insurance companies would need to cover home visits by board-certified lactation consultants, including the cost of recommended breast pumps, breastfeeding supplies and feeding aids. 
  • HB4491 (Rep. Faver Dias, Sen. Johnson) – allows a child care director or qualified early childhood educator to be present during the opening or closing of the child care program 
  • SB2675 (Sen. Villivalam, Rep. Croke) – expands eligibility to the Early Childhood Construction Grant (ECCG) program for not-for-profit early childhood providers that rent or lease from another not-for-profit entity

We expect the governor to sign and approve this final budget package and SB1 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. Given there is more work ahead to address the critical gaps in funding for EI and ECACE, we and our advocacy partners look forward to working in the coming months to be sure both the administration and General Assembly understand the urgency of these problems.