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What Illinois’ Smart Start Plan Means for Chicago’s Early Learning System

In this blog post, Kyrsten Emanuel, senior policy manager, shares more on the impacts of Illinois’ newest budget on Chicago’s youngest learners and the early childhood workforce.

Kyrsten Emanuel June 2, 2023
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

Chicago’s new mayor, Brandon Johnson, has taken office at a pivotal time for shaping the future of Chicago’s early care and education system. Last week, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which includes an historic $300 million increase in statewide investments in the state’s core early care and education supports for families with young children. Much of this funding will benefit the over 200,000 children ages birth-5 in the city.

Outlined below are just some of the most notable impacts of Illinois’ newest budget on Chicago’s youngest learners and those who support their healthy development and education.


Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start plan includes a welcome increase of $75 million (12.5%) 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). As is required by state statute, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will receive 37% of this increase, which translates to roughly $27.75 million.

Of this allocated funding, CPS has traditionally held on to 60% to fund their school-based pre-Kindergarten (pre-K) programs and sub-granted the remaining 40% to Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), which are used to fund home visiting and center-based services in community-based programs. This breaks down to roughly $16.65 million more in funding directly for CPS’ pre-K programs and an additional $11.1 million in funding for DFSS-funded community-based early childhood programs.

With Chicago Public Schools recently having achieved universal pre-k for all 4 year-olds in the city, Start Early urges the district to consider how these additional funds coming to the city can support the infrastructure for these pre-k slots, including growing the early childhood workforce, targeting supports for children with disabilities and English learners and strengthening the birth-3 care pipeline that lays the foundation for later success in school.

EARLY INTERVENTION: $40 Million Increase

This astounding 34.5% increase in state funding for Early Intervention (EI) comes at a time when Chicago families continue to experience decreased access to services and long waitlists for children ages 0-3 with disabilities, due to a shortage in the EI workforce. These funds will be used to issue a much-needed 10% rate increase for EI providers beginning July 1, 2023.

EARLY CHILDHOOD INCLUSION: $5 Million in New Funding

Through the state budget, the Illinois State Board of Education will receive $5 million in brand-new funding directed toward supporting inclusion in schools and community-based early childhood settings for preschoolers with disabilities and developmental delays. Chicago Public Schools and Chicago’s six federal Head Start grant recipients have already been working together over the last year to build a plan for ensuring that children with disabilities who are enrolled in community-based early childhood programs have access to inclusive special education services in the least restrictive environment. This new ISBE funding signals a commitment to supporting the statewide infrastructure that makes efforts like the one in Chicago possible.

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Understanding how these additional funds are being allocated by the state to support families with young children is especially important as we head into the City of Chicago’s budget season. Early childhood advocates, providers and families have already worked together to identify funding gaps and submit recommendations to Mayor Johnson’s administration for the city’s investment of local funds to best serve the city’s early learning system.

Read Start Early’s analysis of the state budget to learn about other important legislative measures impacting the state’s early care and education system.

About the Author

Kyrsten Emanuel

Kyrsten Emanuel

Senior Policy Manager, Illinois Policy

Kyrsten leads Illinois’ advocacy strategies related to health and the City of Chicago.

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