Gov. Pritzker Signs SB1, Creating the Department of Early Childhood


Gov. Pritzker Signs SB1, Creating the Department of Early Childhood

New state agency will unify early childhood services for young children

CHICAGO -- 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.

“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.

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.”

“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.”


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