State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, pictured Thursday, May 9, 2024, during House floor debate of Senate Bill 1, which would create a new state agency dubbed the Department of Early Childhood. (Andrew Campbell / Capitol News Illinois)
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Illinois is preparing to dedicate an entire state agency to matters affecting children in their earliest years. Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced in October his intent to move disparate services under the umbrella of a new state agency: the Department of Early Childhood.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces his intention to create a new state agency to oversee early childhood education programs, combining functions currently managed by three state agencies. (Andrew Adams / Capitol News Illinois)
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New entity would coordinate child care, preschool, early interventions

Vowing to make Illinois the top state in the nation for child care accessibility, Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled a plan to consolidate all the state’s early childhood programs and funding into one new state agency. Currently, early childhood services are spread across three agencies.

Alexander, 3, who is being treated for developmental delays, holds a stuffed animal and watches Paw Patrol in the living room of his West Chicago, Ill., home Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)

The federally mandated Early Intervention program is plagued by chronic staffing shortages nationwide, leaving thousands of desperate parents frustrated: They know their children need support, they’re aware of proven therapies that could make a difference, but they have to wait for months to get the help they need.

Children and instructors at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning. (Erica Gunderson / WTTW News)

Every year, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning holds ceremonies and social justice activities in remembrance of Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol McNair — the four little girls killed in a 1963 white supremacist attack on the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

File photo of a child in a classroom. (WTTW News)

A report from the Century Foundation shows that without pandemic-era federal funding, thousands of providers would no longer be able to hire and pay staff, meaning rapid shutdowns in families with small children fending for themselves.

FILE - Books are displayed on a free library shelf inside the classroom of Richard Evans, a teacher at Hyde Park Elementary School, on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. (Joshua Bessex / AP Photo, File)

Nationally, students suffered deep learning setbacks in reading and math during the pandemic. Last year’s third-graders, the kids who were in kindergarten when the pandemic started, lost more ground in reading than kids in older grades and were slower to catch up.

Rousmery Negrón stands with her son at home in Springfield, Mass., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. (Jessica Hill / AP Photo)

More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year, making them chronically absent, according to the most recent data available. Before the pandemic, only 15% of students missed that much school.

(WTTW News)

The state is partnering with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to mail new books to Illinois children each month. The Dollywood Foundation pays for the books, while state and education partners provide the shipping costs.

(WTTW News)

Hope Learning Academy in March abruptly announced it was closing its doors at the end of this school year — a surprise to parents and teachers alike because the school had just inked a four-year contract with CPS weeks prior.

(Courtesy of "Tomorrow's Hope")

Amid the chaos that characterized the last decades of the Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville, an ambitious early education program helped the children who lived there flourish.

(ePhotographyAustralia / Pixabay)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed Smart Start program would allow an additional 5,000 kids to go to preschool next year, eventually adding a total of 20,000 slots. The plan would also add money to increase wages for early education providers.

(WTTW News)
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An additional 5,000 children will be able to go to preschool next year under a proposal Gov. J.B. Pritzker will introduce Wednesday when he pitches his 2024 fiscal year plan to legislators and the public.

(WTTW News)

A technical delay is holding up payments to providers who care for children of low-income families that are part of the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, designed to help parents go to work or school with the help of subsidized child care.

(Photo by C D-X on Unsplash)
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Developed by the Committee for Children, a nonprofit dedicated to the well-being of children, the podcast uses stories, music and activities to help children and adults talk about their feelings and solve problems together. And it doesn’t shy away from topics like racism, prejudice and equity.

(WTTW News)
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The Illinois Child Care for All Coalition is calling for publicly-funded universal child care, saying it is unavailable and unaffordable for many in the Prairie State. 

(ePhotographyAustralia / Pixabay)

After policy changes were made to improve equitable enrollment, students of color and those from low-income households were three times more likely to enroll in full-day pre-K, according to a new report from the University of Chicago.