Earlier today, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced the creation of a new, unified state agency focused on early childhood. This major undertaking, which will take place over several years, aims to simplify and streamline how families access critical early learning and care services – by better aligning and coordinating programs, data and policies.
Across the country, families with young children and those who care for them continue to navigate a complex, fragmented and under-resourced early care and learning system, making it challenging to meet the diverse needs of communities.
Illinois leaders and stakeholders have called for an early childhood agency that can more efficiently and equitably manage the range of services that young children and families need to thrive, and we are prepared and ready to design and implement this new governance structure with success.
For decades, Illinois has been a leader in prioritizing policies and investments that put children and families first and has built a robust early childhood system through deep public and private engagement, helping to ensure services reflect what families and providers need and value. This long history gives the current administration lessons to build upon and partnerships to harness as this new agency is designed and launched.
Start Early is excited to offer its longstanding experiences directly providing early childhood services and informing policy in Illinois as state leaders embark on this historic transformation of the governance and design of our early learning and care system.
“Today, the governor presented a unique, historic pledge to redesign and transform how we serve Illinois families with young children,” Start Early Vice President of Illinois Policy Ireta Gasner shares. “Start Early is eager to be a collaborator in this work. We know that we will have greater success when we bring the voices of the early childhood community alongside our government partners in this effort.”
As the backbone organization of Raising Illinois, a statewide public-private coalition of more than 1,400 parents, providers, advocates and policymakers working to achieve a better future for Illinois’ infants and toddlers, we have seen the power of what Illinoisans can contribute in driving transformational change. It will take the experiences of those on-the-ground in communities across the state for such a notable, positive and sustainable change to be made to our state’s early childhood infrastructure.
While the transition team works to establish the new agency, it remains critical for us to stay committed to the multi-year investments and program improvements outlined in the governor’s Smart Start plan. We must approve and implement substantial annual investments in all early childhood program to address early childhood workforce shortages and waiting lists for services, and to expand services to where families face disparities in accessing programs they need to work and for their children to thrive.
“The first five years of a child’s life are the most important for positive health and development, and our youngest Illinoisans are growing and learning right now,” Start Early President Diana Rauner states. “So, as we look toward this brighter future for how we serve Illinois families, Start Early remains steadfast in its efforts to reach more families with quality early learning experiences through transformational policies, investments and research.”