Pritzker signs bill creating new Department of Early Childhood

New agency to bring multiple programs under one roof

Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation June 25 creating a new cabinet-level state agency dedicated to early childhood education and development.

The new Department of Early Childhood, which will become operational in July 2026, will take over programs currently housed across three state agencies, including funding for preschool programs, child care centers and the licensing of day care centers.

click to enlarge Pritzker signs bill creating new Department of Early Childhood
Capitol News Illinois photo by Dilpreet Raju
Gov. JB Pritzker holds up Senate Bill 1 after signing it into law, flanked by Reps. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, and Will Davis, D-Homewood (left) and lead Senate sponsor Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood (right). Pritzker said the agency is expected to be up and running in 2026.

Speaking at a bill signing ceremony at a preschool in Chicago, Pritzker said the streamlined agency  should make it easier for new parents to access critical services for their children.

“It's hard enough juggling all the responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of parents,” he said. “And on top of that, they shouldn't have to navigate a complex bureaucracy to get the care that they and their children deserve.”

Pritzker first unveiled his plan for a consolidated agency last fall, just as lawmakers were beginning their annual fall veto session, when he issued an executive order establishing an Office of Early Childhood within the governor’s office.

That order directed the Department of Human Services, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Illinois State Board of Education to begin working on a transition plan to move the administration of their early childhood programs into a new agency.

The formal bid to establish the new agency was part of Pritzker’s budget proposal to the General Assembly in February, along with a second year of increased funding for those programs under Pritzker’s Smart Start initiative.

Under the plan, the new agency will take over the Early Childhood Block Grant program from the State Board of Education, which funds the Preschool for All and Prevention Initiative programs; the Child Care Assistance Program, Home Visiting programs, and Early Intervention Services currently housed in the Department of Human Services; and licensing of day care facilities, which is currently managed by the Department of Children and Family Services.

click to enlarge Pritzker signs bill creating new Department of Early Childhood
Capitol News Illinois photo by Dilpreet Raju
Gov. JB Pritzker poses for photos with early childhood advocates following a signing event for Senate Bill 1, which creates the Department of Early Childhood. Pritzker said the agency will immediately “make life simpler, better, and fairer for tens of thousands of Illinois families.”

The legislation authorizing the new agency, Senate Bill 1, passed unanimously in the Senate in April, and last month passed with bipartisan support in the House, 93-18.

“The foundation of a child’s success and well-being is built starting the moment they are born,” Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “As a state, it is our duty to provide the necessary support and resources to build such stability. The creation of this unique agency will break ground on our transition to a whole, trauma-informed approach to meeting children’s diverse needs.”

Much of the debate over the bill in the legislature focused on the cost of launching a new state agency. Lawmakers appropriated $14 million in the upcoming fiscal year for initial startup costs, which include such things as hiring executive staff and opening new office space.

But administration officials were reluctant to provide estimates of how much the new agency would cost annually once it’s fully operational, and whether those administrative costs would outweigh what the state is spending currently.

Responding to questions from reporters Tuesday, Pritzker again declined to offer specific cost estimates but suggested consolidating the programs into a single agency could result in efficiencies and cost savings. But he did chide “people who want to complain” about how new state agencies will “cost...taxpayers.”  

“I really don't think it will,” Pritzker said. “I think there's real efficiency and taking programs that are desperately located in different departments and bringing them all together.”

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