Longstanding oppression, the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and police brutality inspired the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to push to end the historic disparities facing Black Illinoisans. In the fall of 2020 the Caucus held a series of hearings to develop its agenda, and because of long-standing relationships built on trust and respect, advocates were invited to highlight early childhood issues and to make recommendations to be included in the package. Advocates were able to share compelling data based on research and child outcomes, as well as qualitative narrative data that focused on highlighting racial disparities. Advocates then worked with state agency department staff to include and draft the early childhood systems elements into the education and healthcare pillars of the legislative package.
On March 8, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the education pillar, which became known as the Education and Workforce Equity Act (HB210), stating “that it will help eliminate racial inequities and structural barriers that hold our learners back.” As Pritzker sees it, “our work isn’t done until equity and fairness is a guiding principle at all of our schools, and until every child has the educational tools available to them that will allow them to attain the future that they dream of.”
Early Childhood Provisions:
- Gives families the option to remain in Early Intervention (EI) programs until the school year following a child’s third birthday to ensure better continuity of care.
- Recognizes that Early Intervention services are cost-effective, and encourages agencies to include children “at-risk” for developmental delays as eligible for EI services and to develop an affirmative outreach plan.
- Requires a kindergarten readiness assessment to help teachers, administrators, families, and policymakers better understand the developmental readiness of children entering kindergarten.
- Increases the availability of Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (I/ECMHC) services through increased funding, encourages relevant state agencies to develop and promote improved materials for families and providers, and encourages relevant state agencies to provide more data on early childhood expulsions.
- Requires behavioral health services providers for children under 5 to use the developmentally appropriate DC 0-5 diagnostic assessment and related codes for billing Medicaid.
- Establishes the Early Childhood Workforce Act, addressing racial inequities in compensation and higher education access by providing outreach and financial support to those seeking to increase their credentials while prioritizing diversity and communities with the greatest shortages.
- Establishes the Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Act, supporting the work of Governor’s Early Childhood Funding Commission.
Children’s Health and Women’s Health Provisions:
On April 27, the governor signed the health pillar, the Illinois Health Care and Human Services Reform Act. Illinois advocates have worked for many years to expand Medicaid coverage for doula and home visiting services, and were pleased to have that provision included in the act. Other provisions of interest to and shaped by the early childhood and maternal health advocates included:
- Expands the state Medicaid program to cover doula and evidence-based home visiting services.
- Requires training for child care providers on early childhood trauma.
- Creates the Racial Impact Note Act, which allows lawmakers to request an analysis of how proposed legislation may impact people and communities of color.
Ireta Gasner, Vice President, Illinois Policy at Start Early, expressed gratitude to the Alliance for Early Success for supporting a set of core partners for many years who work together to advocate for the kind of dramatic changes that this current legislation will create for young children and their families in Illinois.