Gov. Pritzker

CHICAGO- Today, Governor JB Pritzker joined elected officials, early childhood advocates, and education leaders to sign Senate Bill 0001 into law, officially establishing Illinois’ new Department of Early Childhood. The new state agency, first proposed by Governor Pritzker in October 2023, will focus exclusively on early childhood programs and services for young children, improving equity and accessibility for families and caregivers.

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“Our state-funded early childhood programs operate across three different state agencies, putting an unnecessary burden on those families looking for support and on those providing the support that’s needed,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “I am very proud to usher in the beginning of a new era for early childhood education and care in Illinois – as we create the Department of Early Childhood. Once fully implemented in 2026, this new agency will make life simpler, better, and fairer for tens of thousands of Illinois families.”

“The launch of the Department of Early Childhood puts the needs of our youngest learners front and center,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “We're making it easier for parents to find quality care and education, no matter their zip code. This new agency marks a transformative step in ensuring that every child in Illinois has access to the high-quality care and education they deserve.”

Currently, services for young children are housed in three separate agencies: the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Navigating the current system is complex and inefficient, often leaving service gaps and challenges for historically underserved communities. With this new agency, early childhood programs will be unified to improve ease and availability for families and providers seeking state resources, including:

  • The Early Childhood Block Grant at ISBE, which funds Preschool for All and the Prevention Initiative programs
  • The Child Care Assistance Program, Home-Visiting programs, and Early Intervention services at DHS
  • Day care licensing currently managed by DCFS.

The transition will be led by education expert Ann Whalen, who has a background in education policy and teacher retention, and the Department of Early Childhood will begin administering all new programs in FY27 (July 1, 2026). Until then, programs will continue to be housed in legacy agencies as the State works with educators, parents, providers, and stakeholders to design the ideal framework and practical rollout for the new agency.

“Early childhood is the most critical period in child development. ? Ensuring that Illinois families can quickly and easily find and navigate the services they need for their children during this crucial period is truly smart government, and an important step toward making Illinois the best state in the country to raise a family,” said DCFS Director, Heidi E. Mueller. ? “Illinois DCFS is proud to support the new Department of Early Childhood and we are thrilled to be part of an active process of stakeholder engagement and transformation as this new agency is created. ? We could not ask for a better team than those around this table—including our sister agencies, Gov. Pritzker and Ann Whalen—and are grateful for the support, dedication and vision they have brought to this effort.”

"IDHS is proud to have played a role in strengthening and centralizing services such as early intervention, child care, and home visiting through our Division of Early Childhood – which launched in 2021 under Governor Pritzker's visionary leadership," said IDHS Secretary Designate, Dulce M. Quintero. "This new law will further unify efforts to support our youngest residents and their families – and we applaud this major investment in our shared futures."

"Today marks a significant milestone in our commitment to providing equitable and accessible early childhood education and services to all families in Illinois," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders. "The effort to bring the state’s early childhood programs under one roof has required thoughtful collaboration and planning across many stakeholders. The end result will improve coordination, equity, and outcomes for the many excellent early education and care providers across the state and the young minds they serve. When we invest in our children, we invest in our future."

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Thanks to work from the Illinois Early Learning Council, the Transition Advisory Committee, as well as bill co-sponsors Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford and Representative Mary Beth Canty, the Pritzker administration continues to advance its mission to make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise a family.

“The foundation of a child’s success and well-being is built starting the moment they are born,” said Leader Lightford (D-Maywood). “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.”

"Consolidating essential services for Illinois families under one banner will improve the quality of Illinois childcare, ease financial burdens on parents, and reshape our community's future for the better," said State Rep. Mary Beth Canty (D-Arlington Heights). "This milestone makes it clear that in Illinois we care about supporting families from the moment they start."

“This is a significant step forward in our commitment to early childhood education,” said State Senator Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island). “The creation of the Department of Early Childhood ensures access to quality learning opportunities and better outcomes for our kids.”

“Our commitment to children and families does not stop at early childhood education,” said State Senator Adriane Johnson (D- Buffalo Grove). “In creating the Department of Early Childhood, we are able to not only set a strong learning foundation for children, but also offer valuable support to families.”

“Illinois has been a champion in education, ensuring every child is set up to be a lifelong learner at an early age,” said State Senator Meg Loughran Cappel (D-Shorewood). “As a former educator, I’m confident this is a necessary step for kids across the state to be given more opportunities to succeed with the support, resources and stability they need and deserve.”

“High-quality early learning experiences should be the starting point for every child,” said Leader Morrison (D-Lake Forest). “The new Department of Early Childhood will remove barriers and open doors for families across the state, building a strong foundation for children’s academic, social and emotional development.”

“Too often I heard from parents, providers, educators and guardians that navigating the state's early childhood education system was too convoluted, time consuming and inefficient, with relevant programs scattered throughout our state agencies," said Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest). "This new department centralizes these critical services, so those who care for our children are able to quickly access them. When it comes to the wellbeing and education of our children, time is of the essence and it is paramount that we build a state that is able to quickly coordinate and deliver much-needed resources to those most in need."

“Today we’re better focusing our resources to tackle challenges with early childhood education and care through a lens of equity,” said Leader Lilly (D-Chicago). “These investments will help to build the strong foundation needed for our youngest to succeed, and are going to create better outcomes for children of every background in every part of our state. I would like to also thank Governor Pritzker for his dedication to address the needs of our children. As a member of the Early Learning Council, I see that our work has made a difference and I'm excited to see the impact it will have.”

“Study after scientific study shows that the first years in a child’s life are critical to their future development, but our state priorities have fallen short of supporting those early developmental goals,” said Leader Hernandez (D-Cicero). “As families face rising costs and more responsibilities at home, they deserve a state that will have their backs. By creating this new department and pooling resources, expertise and know-how, we can best do that. Today’s action is in service of a goal legislators, advocates and families all share: making sure our children can learn the fundamentals that will carry them through the rest of their lives.”

"Today we are creating the foundation to give Illinois’ youngest residents the educational start they deserve," said State Rep. Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee). "Every child, regardless of the conditions of their birth or unique educational needs, should have an equal chance to flourish. As Chairperson of the Childcare Accessibility and Early Childhood Education Committee, I know what we are doing today is laying the groundwork for a new agency that will provide streamlined access for families and give providers more time to focus on our little ones.”

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