Early Childhood Education

JB Pritzker’s Five-Point Plan for Early Childhood Education

My five-point plan engages parents and children in a two-generation approach to build a comprehensive, birth-to-five system of early childhood education that gives every child an opportunity to achieve their potential and gives parents the tools they need to strengthen our families. Research shows that Illinois taxpayers will see budget savings in K-12 education from investments in early learning.

My plan includes the following:

1. Ensure every child participates in kindergarten

Ensure every child participates in kindergarten by lowering the compulsory school age from 6 to 5 years old.

In Illinois, roughly half of kindergarten-age children live in low-income households, around 20 percent speak a language other than English at home, around 14 percent have special needs, and several thousand are homeless.

Research indicates that during kindergarten, there is a clear achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged kids. While evidence suggests that participation in kindergarten, particularly full-day kindergarten, improves academic outcomes, self-confidence, and the ability to interact with others, it is estimated that 5,000 school-age children are not enrolled in kindergarten across the state.

Lowering the compulsory age of education from six to five will ensure that every child is able to benefit from the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits of kindergarten. It will also build upon the investment the state is making in birth-to-five early learning services.

Unfortunately, Bruce Rauner put the education of kindergarten children in jeopardy by trying to use school funding as leverage to score a political win. Illinois needs to fully fund its schools and ensure that school districts across the state equitably receive the resources they need to provide kindergarteners with a high-quality education.


2. Put Illinois on a path towards universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds

Put Illinois on a path towards universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, starting with the children who would benefit the most.

Illinois is currently serving approximately 110,000 3 and 4-year-olds through the state’s Preschool for All and the federally-funded Head Start Program. In order to provide every parent with the opportunity to enroll their 3 and 4-year-olds in a high-quality preschool program, Illinois would have to serve over 200,000 more children, 50,000 of which are considered low-income. The state should make bold moves to accomplish that goal, but it has to be done incrementally because there aren’t enough teachers or classroom space to do this overnight.

We need to increase the state’s investment in the Early Childhood Block Grant so that Illinois can serve at least 12,500 more children every year, while investing in training the teachers we’ll need to expand access even further. This would enable the state to enroll every low-income child within four years and put Illinois on path towards serving 100,000 more children in eight years.

Illinois is currently in the middle of a five-year preschool expansion plan initiated under Governor Pat Quinn and supported by a federal grant from the Obama Administration. Despite state efforts, Illinois is currently ranked 21st in the nation in preschool access for 4-year-olds. Even though he claims to support early learning programs, Bruce Rauner vetoed the state’s FY18 budget allocating $443.7 million for the Early Childhood Block Grant.


3. Increase access to the Child Care Assistance Program

Increase access to the Child Care Assistance Program by raising income eligibility to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and creating an exit ramp at 300 percent of the FPL, which will allow working parents to increase their wages without losing assistance. This will help more than 10,000 children receive the quality care they deserve.

Increasing income eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program to 200 percent of the federal poverty level would allow a family of three to qualify for assistance with an annual salary of about $40,000. Today, Child Care Assistance Program eligibility is capped at 185 percent of the federal poverty limit, which would leave a family of three outside of the system if they earn more than roughly $38,000. We would also create an exit ramp that allows those who qualify for it to continue receiving assistance as their wages increase up to 300 percent of the FPL which is roughly $61,000 annual earnings for a family of three.

Increasing access to the Child Care Assistance Program is critical to a two-generation approach to supporting children and their parents. Under my plan, working parents can avoid having their assistance abruptly taken away when they get better paying jobs or get a raise. Working parents who receive child care assistance are more likely to maintain stable employment, earn more money, and reduce their debt. When families don’t have access to affordable, high-quality child care, they are more likely to place their children in inferior settings. This can contribute to the 30-million-word gap that already exists between higher-income families who can afford high-quality child care and those from lower-income families who cannot.

Unfortunately, more than 30,000 children lost access to high-quality child care over the last few years because of Bruce Rauner’s assault on working families. On July 1, 2015, Rauner made Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program the least accessible program in the nation when he lowered income eligibility to 50 percent of the federal poverty limit, or no more than $10,045 a year for a family of three. This change in policy denied child care assistance to 90 percent of the working families who typically apply for the program. Under pressure from the public and the legislature, Rauner increased income eligibility up to 162 of the federal poverty limit in November 2017 and promised to elevate it back up to 185 percent of the federal poverty limit when a full budget was authorized – a promise Rauner failed to fulfill until October 2017 – 84 days after lawmakers voted to override his veto of the fiscal year 2018 budget.


4. Expand birth-to-three services and create a new ‘Family Engagement Portal’

Expand birth-to-three services and create a new ‘Family Engagement Portal’ that will provide every new and expecting parent with comprehensive information about child development.

Evidence-based home visiting programs have shown positive long-term impacts on children through increased school readiness, reduced child maltreatment, and reduced lifetime arrests and convictions. Evidence-based home-visiting programs also show positive impacts for families, such as increased parental income and increased percentages of parents who live together.

Illinois currently has several birth-to-three home-visiting programs administered by the Department of Human Services and the State Board of Education. As governor, I will work to expand the reach of those programs and create a new ‘Family Engagement Portal.’ This new, parent-centered mobile and online portal will provide parents and caregivers with information about publicly available local child development resources for children and families. We’ll also strive to reach all new and expecting parents through health care providers and urge them to sign-up to receive mobile messaging about maternal and child health, positive parenting practices, and early learning programs. Focusing on assisting parents will help build stronger families and enhance the learning environment for young children.

Bruce Rauner’s 736-day budget crisis has debilitated families’ access to birth-to-three home-visiting programs, which did not receive a full-year appropriation in FY16 or FY17. Instability surrounding the state budget and late payments from the state resulted in a 30 percent decline in home-visiting funding. Bruce Rauner even proposed restricting access to the Early Intervention Program, which helps infants and toddlers overcome developmental delays. Thankfully, parents, medical professionals, and advocates fought back against this proposal and succeeded in protecting critical services for young children.


5. Invest in adding more teachers and classrooms

Invest in adding more teachers and classrooms so we can build capacity to make a comprehensive, universal early childhood system a reality.

Expanding early childhood education in Illinois requires more teachers and expanded training. Early learning programs often prioritize services for children and families who would benefit from them the most. Some children require language support services from teachers who can speak Spanish or other high-need languages. Other children need early childhood professionals who have training in special education. Unfortunately, there are not enough early childhood teachers who are trained and equipped to provide high-quality early learning services to English learners and special needs children across the state.

While many have recognized this problem in the field, the state has not done enough to address the needs of our children. We cannot continue expanding access to early learning opportunities without addressing the shortage of teachers who can work with children with diverse needs. As governor, I’m going to establish new financial incentives for people to earn the appropriate credentials and enter the state’s early learning workforce.

In addition to strengthening the early learning workforce, the state must proactively expand the available physical space school districts and other early learning providers have to serve more children. Back in 2011, the state initiated a $45 million competitive early childhood construction grant program and received proposals totaling more than $500 million in need across the state, signaling high demand for capital support. As governor, I will initiate an early childhood construction grant program to make sure that school districts and other early childhood providers are able to create the space necessary to serve thousands more children.


For Illinois to grow its globally competitive workforce, we need a world-class education system. Bruce Rauner is failing to prepare the next generation of Illinois workers for the jobs of tomorrow. Only 35 percent of 4th graders are reading at proficiency, just 38 percent of high school graduates are college-ready, and only 50 percent of adults have a post-secondary degree or credential. We can do better.

Early childhood education is a critically important part of a successful education system that strengthens families and communities. Research clearly shows that investments in high-quality early learning opportunities, starting at birth and through age five, increases children’s school readiness, raises high school graduation rates, boosts labor participation, and improves health outcomes. It also saves money by reducing expenditures later in life on remedial programs, job training, and incarceration. In fact, it’s fiscally responsible to invest in early learning.

Inspired by experts like Barbara Bowman and Irving Harris, for almost two decades, I’ve been at the forefront of local and national efforts to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities. As a national activist, I provided Congressional testimony, spoke at the National Governors Association and numerous other organizations, and I supported the creation of the First Five Years Fund, a national advocacy organization advancing high-quality early childhood education. In 2014, I helped lead President Obama’s White House Summit on Early Childhood Education. This is a priority for me and as governor, I will make Illinois a national leader in early childhood education.


Instead of setting an agenda for children that will lead to better educational outcomes, Bruce Rauner has provided no vision or leadership for our state’s youngest children and their families.  Instead, his 736-day budget impasse and current school funding crisis has created a cloud of instability that looms over our state. Rauner has failed to establish a plan to strengthen the state’s birth-to-five early learning system and its youngest learners.

Our children deserve better. As governor, I will work to provide a strong early educational environment for every Illinois child starting at birth and will assist parents and caregivers in their desire to strengthen families.

Help Spread the Word

Ready to take action?

Sign up and we’ll be in touch with opportunities to get involved with our team.

Back to Top