SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker took his proposal for increased education funding for a test drive outside of the Capitol building on Thursday, promoting its benefits in a series of downstate stops.
Pritzker touted his “Start Smart Illinois” program during a visit to Springfield Early Learning Center before heading to East St. Louis and Mount Vernon in the Metro East and Southern Illinois, respectively. The tour came one day after the Chicago Democrat outlined his 2024 budget proposal for lawmakers in the annual State of the State address.
“We are talking about the time period in your life when most of brain development occurs, and that’s why this is such a delicate and important area for us to invest in,” Pritzker said.
The governor’s budget proposal includes $250 million intended to expand access to early childhood education. Pritzker said his plan would ultimately create 20,000 new preschool slots for Illinois children, aiming to eliminate “preschool deserts” — areas where preschool access is limited — by December 2027.
The proposal is specifically designed to enable low-income families access to early childhood education programs, the governor said.
In addition to creating more preschool spots, the program would increase wages for childcare workers, work to create more equitable access to the childcare system, address the state’s teacher shortage and increase home visiting and early intervention programs.
“Home visiting in Illinois is an evidence-based program that has a long history in our state of improving maternal and child health, preventing child abuse and neglect, preventing crime and domestic violence, and promoting children’s development and readiness to participate in school,” Pritzker said.
While the positive effects of early childhood development programs are known, demand may have outstripped supply in some parts of Illinois. Parents in poorer and more rural communities may struggle to find childcare programs or preschool openings within their communities, Pritzker said.
“Too many families can’t access early childhood programs at all because there are no providers or available providers near their home or work,” he said. “This program will be the beginning of the end of early childhood deserts in Illinois.”
Pritzker proposed an additional $100 million to fund construction of new childcare facilities or expansion of existing ones.
The proposal also includes 70 million to cover increased participation in the state’s Childcare Assistance Program. The state offers childcare assistance for families at up to 225% the federal poverty level.
“We have to remove the barriers that families face when deciding if they can send their kids to school or put food on the table,” said state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, on Thursday. “A strong investment in early childhood education can give our youth a brighter tomorrow.”
Pritzker’s proposal also includes the full annual $350 million increase for K-12 education funding called for under the evidence-based formula law enacted in 2018.
That was welcome news to state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, who is a former teacher.
“I’m thrilled with the program suggestion,” she said. “Where is a more important place for a state to put their funding (than education)? We rely heavily on state funding in order to fund our schools and so the EBF going up is really going to help.”
Illinois lawmakers react to State of the Union
Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro
U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap
U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland
U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Moline
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Region: Decatur,City: Decatur,Politics,Region: Central
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