Frenzied Close to Spring Legislative Session Brings Significant Early Childhood Funding Increases in Illinois

Members of the 101st Illinois General Assembly got to work early this spring and never really stopped. Just one month after his 2019 inauguration, Governor JB Pritzker signed into law a significant increase to the state’s minimum wage. The overdue raise for millions of low-wage workers was just the first of a number of major legislative victories for the governor during the spring session, not the least of which is an FY20 budget that provides substantial funding for the state’s early childhood system. The final budget, passed with bipartisan support, came together several days after the traditional May 31st adjournment date.

The extra time spent in Springfield resulted in major steps forward for young children and families, as the budget includes:

  • a $50 million increase (10.1%) to the Early Childhood Block Grant at the Illinois State Board of Education to expand and improve birth-to-five early childhood services
  • a $28.8 million increase (7.2%) to the Child Care Assistance Program at the Department of Human Services to expand income eligibility from 185% to 200% below the Federal Poverty Line, to decrease parent copays, and to commit significant resources to the Department for much needed program outreach and recruitment, among other improvements
  • level-funding for evidence-based home visiting programs for expectant and new parents through Healthy Families and Parents Too Soon in the Department of Human Services
  • a $12 million increase (12.4%) to the Early Intervention program at the Department of Human Services to accommodate the state’s growing caseload and to increase reimbursement rates for all EI providers. (Related legislation to implement the budget also includes language to ensure that young children exposed to lead are eligible for Early Intervention services.)

In addition to these important annual investments, the legislature also passed a new capital infrastructure plan—the first since 2009—which includes $100 million in facilities funding for school districts and child care centers through the Early Childhood Construction Grant program. With these funds, early learning providers will build new or update existing classrooms for infants, toddlers and preschoolers across the state. High-quality facilities have been shown to help improve play interaction, lessen conflicts, and advance school readiness for children.

Several other important early childhood measures passed both chambers, including legislation that:

  • removes barriers for educator licensure
  • creates a children’s savings account program for every child born or adopted in Illinois
  • addresses infant and maternal mortality, particularly for children and mothers of color, through the extension of Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year for women post-partum and improved trainings for health care professionals, among other improvements

Illinois advocates applaud the Illinois General Assembly, its leaders and Governor Pritzker for working together to develop a fully-funded budget and a long-overdue capital plan that invest in critical supports for Illinois’ youngest children and their families.

We also know that this is only the first step, and much more funding is needed. Illinois must redouble its efforts to ensure that we are not only providing more children with the opportunity to receive early care and education services, but that our highest-priority children receive, beginning prenatally, quality services that make the biggest difference for them. The state can and should do more when it comes to equipping our children with the tools they need to be prepared for college, career, and beyond.

At the Ounce, we believe that investing in high-quality early childhood programs is one of the most effective ways to do just that: to close the achievement gap and prepare young children, especially those living in poverty, for school and life success. And we are thrilled to have such committed partners in the legislature and the governor’s office. We’ve only just begun.

 

Jonathan Doster

Policy Manager, Illinois Policy, Ounce of Prevention Fund

August 26, 2019