PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Governor JB Pritzker announced his Smart Start Illinois Plan during his State of the State Address on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
“Smart Start is comprised of four elements: Pre-K, child care, early intervention, and home visiting. It also makes our existing programs more equitable giving moderate-income families greater access to quality programs, and investing in an early childhood workforce made up largely of women and people of color,” said Gov. Pritzker.
The plan is made up of four steps:
- Provide every Illinois child with access to preschool
- Increase funding to childcare providers to raise wages and quality
- Invest in new early childhood facilities and expand existing locations
- Reach more valuable families with early support and resources
The Smart Start program would invest $250 million in early childhood education and care.
$75 million would be allocated to the Early Childhood Block Grant Program, which would allow preschool access to every three and four-year-old in Illinois. This would create about 20,000 new Pre-K spots.
About $130 million would be placed into the Child Care Workforce Compensation Contracts. This will give childcare workers a raise.
Early intervention will also be another point of investment, standing at $40 million. Early intervention would “Support the essential state program that gives infants and toddlers birth to age three with developmental delays, autism, or other diagnosed medical conditions the services they need, including for speech and language challenges and occupational and physical therapies,” said Gov. Pritzker.
Lastly, $5 million would be invested in expanding DHS’ Home Visiting Program. This program will help families by improving child and maternal health, preventing child abuse and neglect, preventing crime and domestic violence, and promoting children’s development and readiness to participate in school.
“This is the foundation of our whole education system, is making sure that children in a very early age are ready to go into kindergarten and first grade, and to do that you’ve got to have a robust program of early childhood education,” said State Senator Dave Koehler.
Another $100 million would go towards the Rebuild Illinois investment, getting rid of early childhood education deserts in Illinois. This will also provide more options for working families, or families looking for work.
“This program will be the beginning of the end of early childhood deserts in Illinois,” said Gov. Pritzker.
Additional investments in early education would include $70 million for the Child Care Assistance Program or CCAP, which is a program initially started in 2021.
“Although we provide child care assistance for parents who already have jobs, we’ve never before provided child care for someone who is unemployed but looking for a job,” said Pritzker. “We initiated a program that provides three months of child care for unemployed parents who are engaged in a job search or a job training program in preparation for a new job.”
Leaders at early childhood education programs in Peoria hope this budget comes to fruition, because of the impact it may have on their work.
“It’ll allow us to hire more and also to retain them because that has been the biggest problem that all the early childhood centers have. They cannot retain them [employees] due to their hours, and how much they’re making,” said Lori Flores, the director, and owner of 123 You ‘N Me.
Although it may seem like a golden plan, there are members on the other side of the aisle who have other ideas.
“Illinois is a state is facing a fiscal cliff and we’ve seen an unprecedented windfall of additional revenue from the federal government, which is coming to an end. And we still have the worst bond rating of any state in the country,” said Illinois State Senator Win Stoller.
Stoller said an increase in the budget would only bring higher taxes in the future. “It increases base spending, $2.75 billion. And that’s coming at a time when he is he is projecting that revenues are going to decrease just this next year by $1.6 billion.”