PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Gov. JB Pritzker (D-Ill.) was at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria on Tuesday to highlight his child care and preschool investment proposal.

Smart Start is a multi-year investment plan to ensure preschool access to all three and four-year-old children in Illinois, increase child care worker pay, and reach vulnerable families with early support in resources.

“We’re putting more money in the hands of providers to expand their programs, raise quality, and hire more staff,” said Pritzker.

In its first year, the program would invest $250 million into the state’s early childhood education programs, early intervention programs and child care workforce compensation.

“We’re going to bring stability to the field by increasing wages for a workforce that is primarily women and people of color, so that we can attract and retain many more people into the child care field. We’ll also raise standard of care to ensure quality childhood programs,” said Pritzker.

On top of that, Pritzker is proposing $100 million to build and expand early childhood education facilities and $70 million for increased funding and eligibility to the Child Care Assistance Program.

Valeska Hinton Principal Katie Cobb said they have 618 students enrolled across two campuses, but there are hundreds of children on the waiting list.

“With each year, our waitlist grows. With more than 300 on our waiting list, the funding is crucial more than ever,” she said.

Pritzker characterized Peoria as a “early childhood desert.”

“When you don’t have the ability to put a child into an early childhood program, that’s a desert,” he said.

PPS School Board President Martha Ross said increased funding would allow Peoria to reach its full potential for preschool availability.

“We have Headstart and we have early childhood education, but we just don’t have enough dollars to make what really needs to happen, happen,” she said.

Ross added investing in child care pays off in the long run.

“It’s a smart idea. Smart Start, it’s a great concept. As I always say, you invest in the kids now, and you will get your returns back in good solid citizens later on,” she said.

Pritzker is urging the Illinois General Assembly to adopt the Smart Start investment program. He said the plan will add 5,000 early childhood program spots across the state for the next school year.