• Ben Szalinski
    FEB 15, 2023


    Pritzker to announce plan to boost access to childcare and Pre-K in Wednesday’s State of the State address

    Gov. JB Pritzker gives the 2022 State of the State address at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. [Blue Room Steam] 

    Gov. JB Pritzker intends to fulfill early campaign promises in his State of the State Address Wednesday and will announce a four-year plan to boost access to childcare and preschool in hopes of making early childhood education accessible to all children.  

    Pritzker was an advocate for early childhood education before his political days and has made it a central part of his message as a candidate for governor while leading the state. Though he pushed various initiatives and grants on early childhood education throughout his first term, other priorities such as navigating the pandemic required his attention.  

    Related: Pritzker starts second term with agenda to expand on victories for Democrats  

    In a meeting with reporters Tuesday, Pritzker said he would’ve pursued an ambitious early childhood education plan in his first year if the state had the money, but passing balanced budgets had to be the first priority. And while other plans to expand early childhood education have failed to materialize, Pritzker said his lifetime of advocacy on the issue makes this proposal different.   

    “I’ve been involved in this arena for more than 20 years before I became governor and I believe strongly that this is the best investment that you can make in government because of the return on investment,” Pritzker said.   

    Pritzker’s four-part plan titled “Smart Start Illinois” starts by increasing early childhood education and care funding by $250 million in Fiscal Year 2024. This includes an additional $75 million for a grant program at the Illinois State Board of Education to open 5,000 new preschool spots in Fiscal Year 2024 with an ultimate goal of opening enough spots so all children can attend preschool. The extra $75 million would mark a $179 million funding increase for preschool since Pritzker took office.   

    “Thanks to our improved fiscal standing, we can afford to do this,” Pritzker said.   

    The second part of his plan focuses on increasing the quality of childcare by establishing a $130 million contract program to boost wages for childcare workers.   

    “Working parents need more childcare options and more quality options. The overall labor shortage that we’re seeing across the state right now can’t be addressed without growing the availability of childcare for working families. And as preschool availability increases under this plan, there will be an even greater need for childcare options to pair with it,” Pritzker said.   

    House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said at an unrelated news conference the lack of a workforce is an issue in rural areas.   

    “Often times we don’t have access to daycare because we have facilities that don’t have a workforce,” McCombie said.   

    The state’s current childcare funding model is based more on attendance, which means if attendance falls, reimbursement for providers also falls, Pritzker said.   

    Pritzker’s plan also calls for a $40 million increase for early childhood intervention programs and $5 million to expand the state’s Home Visiting Program to allow more families to have easier access to early education. 

    Pritzker said he is pitching the plan with tightening revenue and a potential recession in mind, which is why the plan is being frontloaded with a $250 million investment as the state expects to close Fiscal Year 2023 with another multi-billion-dollar surplus.   

    “There will be more in subsequent years, but it will be a decreasing amount of an increase,” Pritzker said. “What I wanted to make sure is we weren’t burdening future budgets with enormous expenditures and that we make a leap forward in this first year.”  

    The plan also does not add to a projected $384 million deficit the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) projects in Fiscal Year 2025 as of the office’s fall 2022 report.   

    Republicans expressed initial skepticism about paying for preschool and childcare in a way that reduces costs for families.   

    “The intent seems good, but how we get there is always the question,” McCombie said. “I look forward to hearing how they’re going to fund that.”  

    Offering a slight hint at his thought process behind the rest of Wednesday’s budget proposal, Pritzker said it was built with a possible recession in mind.   

    “The revenue coming in for FY24 projects is continuing to be strong, looks good,” Pritzker said. “We of course have the economic forecaster that we rely on who is predicting a mild recession, so that’s built into the revenue forecast. But as you’ve seen, we’ve had significantly stronger revenues over the last couple of years… I would just point out that we’ve been conservative with projecting those revenues and we continue to be going into FY24.”  

    GOMB last projected a minimal surplus of $357 million in Fiscal Year 2024. Currently in Fiscal Year 2023, Pritzker is working off a projected $2 billion surplus with revenue up over $4 billion from Fiscal Year 2022, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability November update  

    Remaining questions over Pritzker’s Wednesday budget presentation include how he proposes managing a likely slowing economy and possible recession causing slower revenue sources as lawmakers and other stakeholders continue pushing spending priorities, what additional funding will be allocated for education, and whether further action is taken to make another dent in the state’s unfunded pension liability.  

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