In Illinois, 9,719 children under the age of three are served by Early Head Start. In addition, 18 percent of 3-year-olds and 27 percent of 4-year-olds are served through state-run pre-K programs. In Chicago, access is even more widespread with 75 percent of low-income children aged 3 and 4 years enrolled in pre-K education. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $12,697. With the governor and mayors across the state on board, early childhood education has become a common sense solution to solving economic issues in Illinois. Decisions about funding and expansion are being made this year in the legislature.
- What the governor is saying: In his “Illinois is Making a Comeback” themed State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn championed early childhood education saying, “Illinois can lead the nation in early childhood education. We have the foundation in place. Now is the time to get the job done for Illinois’ littlest.” The governor kicked off 2014 by calling for a “Birth to Five” Initiative that would be focused on supporting healthy children through prenatal care, expanding early learning opportunities and parental support. The governor also has set a goal of ensuring 60 percent of Illinoisans have a high-quality, industry-recognized degree or credential by 2025, and he believes reaching it will begin with high-quality early education. In April 2014, he convened his state’s very first symposium through his new Office of Early Childhood Development themed “College and Career readiness Begins at Birth” to build off of his initiative. In June 2014, Gov. Quinn signed a law that will guarantee more funding in Illinois will go to early childhood education programs for children 3 and younger. The bill increases the percent of Early Childhood Education Block Grant funding for children up to age 3 from 11 to 14 percent in the next fiscal year, up to 20 percent by fiscal year 2016.
- What’s happening in the legislature: In May, the Illinois House passed a $6.7 billion budget for the state’s schools, which includes a $25 million increase in early childhood education funding.
- Support from the business community: In Chicago, the PNC Foundation announced the launch of a multiyear vocabulary initiative to address the word gap among underserved pre-K children in the city. The $19 million effort will also extend an early science learning program for preschool children through 2015.
- Public support for early childhood education: Statewide support contributed to the increasing importance of early learning this year. In March, a dozen of police chiefs from around the state met with lawmakers to discuss the importance of pre-K and home visiting funding. This April, early childhood education advocates rallied at the Capitol to call on lawmakers to protect funding for early childhood education and home visiting programs. Additionally, a collection of Illinois state’s attorneys called for support of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act and for the state to maintain funding for home-visiting programs. The Chicago Teachers Union has also called for full-day, universal preschool for all children in the city of Chicago to “level the playing field” for thousands of children.