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Arlington Heights Daily Herald. October 28, 2023.
It may seem counterintuitive to create a new government agency in order to reduce bureaucracy, but in the matter of early childhood learning Gov. J.B. Pritzker seems to be on to something. As lawmakers came into session last week for the first of two weeks of the fall veto session, the governor issued an executive order that will consolidate into a single new agency functions related to early childhood learning and development currently divided among three separate agencies. The Illinois State Board of Education administers early childhood block grants; the Department of Human Services administers programs that subsidize the cost of various child care services for lower-income families; and the Department of Children and Family Services oversees licensing of day care providers.
“Anybody, as a parent, who has tried to go through the system of getting everything that you need — from home visiting, to early intervention services, to child care, to preschool, some accessing all four of those things — knows that it is an impossible bureaucracy to try to access all of those things,” Pritzker said in announcing the order. Pritzker’s administration has consistently made education, especially early childhood education, a budget priority. Among other initiatives, his 2024 budget includes a $250 million Smart Start project intended to expand early childhood education and child care throughout the state. But this latest announcement is less focused on financial concerns than on simply making government operate more efficiently and more accessibly to parents, schools, child-care workers and other stakeholders.
The idea was first proposed by a task force Pritzker established in 2019 to study equitable access to effective education programs for children in the first five years of life. Among the recommendations of the Early Childhood Funding Commission was a call to consolidate all early childhood functions into a single agency. The governor’s executive order gets the process under way, but legislation will be required to make it permanent, and even then the process is expected to take years to complete. Pritzker promised to work with lawmakers in the spring to formalize the program, and he created an advisory panel to develop a consolidation plan, naming Ann Whalen, an education advocate with experience in the U.S. Department of Education, to oversee the transition.
Education experts consistently emphasize the importance of establishing patterns of learning in children from their earliest years in order to help assure successful experiences throughout elementary and high school and beyond. So, concentration on these early learners is clearly wise, and it should not be disrupted by bureaucratic processes that can be hard to navigate or that get in each other’s way.
Hopefully, Pritzker’s proposal will help ensure that the money we’re spending to bolster the experiences of young learners won’t be diminished by such disruptions.