SPRINGFIELD – One day after delivering his budget address, Gov. J.B. Pritzker took to the road Thursday to rally support for his proposed “Smart Start” program to expand access to preschool and child care throughout the state.
“It is important for us to make sure that every 3- and 4-year-old in Illinois can go to preschool and has child care available to them,” Pritzker said at a preschool in Springfield. “We’re going to put more money into the hands of providers to expand their programs, raise quality and hire more staff.”
The multi-year plan calls for spending $250 million next year to increase state funding for child care providers and for early childhood block grants administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. It also includes additional funding for early intervention programs and the Department of Human Services’ home visitation program. Additional funding would be required in subsequent years.
Pritzker said the funding would create 5,000 new preschool spots in the first year, with the ultimate goal of creating 20,000 spots over the next four years.
In addition to the $250 million, Pritzker is also seeking another $100 million to expand existing child care facilities and build new ones; a $70 million increase in funding for the Child Care Assistance Program for lower-income families; $12 million for scholarships and apprenticeships to expand the child care workforce; and $1.6 million to launch a partnership with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, an initiative to send free books to children under age 5.
“This program will help provide more equitable access to our child care system and allow for more equitable compensation for early childhood educators, regardless of the setting in which they work,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker also made stops Thursday at child care and pre-K facilities in East St. Louis and Mount Vernon to rally support for his budget plan.
In Springfield, he was joined by local officials and lawmakers, including Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, who chairs the Senate’s newly formed Early Childhood Education Committee.
“In this, we can actually change life trajectories. We are going to make generational impact,” she said. “And that’s what is so exciting about this because we’re going to ensure equity. We’re going to do this through early care and education so that everyone can thrive.”
Although early childhood education and child care have popular support, Republican lawmakers raised concerns that launching new programs could lead to tax increases or cuts to other essential services in future budget years as spending pressures increase.
Pritzker, however, said the state is in a vastly improved financial condition than when he first entered office because Democrats who control the budgeting process have used surpluses in recent years to pay the state’s debts and pension obligations.
“(It’s) very important to note that every budget that I’ve put forward has had a revenue estimate associated with it that has been conservative and that we have carefully watched throughout the year,” he said.
He noted that in Fiscal Year 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, his administration cut more than $700 million in spending in response to a decrease in revenue.