Pritzker stops in Mt. Vernon to promote education program

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker toured the state today to share his new Smart Start Illinois early childhood education proposal
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 5:16 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2023 at 10:26 PM CST
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MOUNT VERNON, Ill. (KFVS) - Governor JB Pritzker is wasting no time in getting the word out about his education program proposal.

In less than 24 hours after delivering his fifth State of the State and budget address, Gov. Pritzker hit the road to discuss his “Smart Start Illinois” plan.

The governor made stops in Springfield, East St. Louis and Mount Vernon on Thursday, February 16.

He visited early childhood learning and service centers.

In Mount Vernon, the governor stopped at Spero Family Services at 3 p.m.

At each stop he promoted his four-year universal schooling program for 3 and 4-year-olds. The goal is to increase Pre-K and childcare availability in the state in addition to more home visits and early intervention.

During his State of the State address, Pritzker said the “Smart Start Illinois” plan would reach 5,000 more children this fall.

“Smart Start Illinois will save taxpayers $7 for every one dollar invested and will vault Illinois to national leadership in early childhood development,” stated Pritzker during his address Wednesday. “Enhancing quality early care and education is a win-win solution for re-mobilizing parents in the workforce, enhancing brain development and kindergarten readiness, saving taxpayers money, and increasing economic activity now and in the decades ahead.”

Pritzker is expected to visit more childcare facilities, learning centers and schools across the state in the coming days.

”We’re going to put more money into the hands of providers, to expand there programs, raise quality and higher more staff,” said Pritzker.

Daycare workers and parents that were there today all feel that this program is needed across the state, especially in rural areas, including Shanaya Johnson, a parent and daycare worker.

“I think it’s good, I think we need more programs, I think we need the money to help it and More educators,” said Johnson.

Johnson and her young son Charles Jr. were in attendance for today’s Governor’s stop. Johnson works in childcare as well, but she see’s the importance of this new program.

“It means a lot that somebody is really like taking initiative and just trying to help us out and they’re actually thinking about us and the kids,” said Johnson.

Beginning with a $250M investment this year, Smart Start Illinois is a multi-year plan to provide every child with access to preschool, increase funding to childcare providers to raise wages and quality, invest in new and expanded early childhood facilities, and reach more vulnerable families with early support.

Under the governor’s plan, households making under $67,000 a year would qualify for pre-school funding.

“I’ve always wanted to be a helping hand in shaping children’s lives and I thought when I had seen an opening, I actually didn’t start out as director, I started out as an office admin. So then I worked my way up and it’s wonderful in just being a helping hand, shaping those children’s lives,” said Sunny Campbell, Director at Bright Start Early Learning Center.

Campbell says she see’s the shortage of workers first hand.

“It is a struggle, finding the right person who is there to provide care. And know that they are a good person to be with those kiddos and things like that,” said Campbell.

Johnson is excited for the future of this program.

“You know getting the funding to get the stuff to help them learn, the way that they learn. Cause every kids learns differently and to help,” said Johnson.

Smart Start Illinois demonstrates the state’s ongoing commitment to children, families, teachers, and childcare providers. The $250M investment in FY24 includes:

  • $75M additional for the Early Childhood Block Grant to put Illinois on a path to creating more than 20,000 new Pre-K spots for every child who wants one
  • $130M for nation-leading Childcare Workforce Compensation Contracts that will stabilize providers and give childcare workers a raise
  • An additional $40M for Early Intervention programs to enhance services for families and give providers a raise
  • $5M to expand the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Home Visiting Program so more families who want it can receive this early support

In addition to Smart Start investments, other investments being made in the early Childhood Education Space include:

  • $100M in capital dollars for early childhood providers to expand existing facilities and build new facilities
  • $70M for the Child Care Assistance Program
  • $12M in new funding for scholarships and apprenticeships to expand the childcare workforce
  • $1.6M to launch the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a statewide literacy initiative to send free books to children from birth-through age five

Pritzker says Smart Start Illinois is a comprehensive plan to build one of the best early childhood systems in the nation.