© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Pritzker touts his early childhood education proposal in Peoria stop

Joe Deacon
Gov. JB Pritzker discusses details of his Smart Start Illinois early childhood education investment proposal Tuesday at the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria.

Gov. JB Pritzker wants Illinois’ early childhood education system to be the best in the nation, and he’s touring the state to drum up additional legislative support.

Speaking in Peoria on Tuesday at the fifth stop on a statewide tour, Pritzker trumpeted his “Smart Start Illinois” proposal that calls for a $250 million investment in programs this year, along with another $100 million to build and upgrade preschool facilities.

“By every metric, there is no more important public investment that we can make than in our youngest children and their families,” Pritzker said during his appearance alongside other state and community leaders at the Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center. “That's why I'm asking our General Assembly to adopt the Smart Start Illinois plan.”

Joe Deacon
A poster shows the key goals of Gov. JB Pritzker's Smart Start Illinois proposal for investment in early childhood education.

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat said the district currently has more than 500 pre-K students enrolled at Valeska Hinton, another 180 at the Woodruff Center – and more than 300 on a waiting list.

“The reason that pre-K is so critically important is that it gets our children ready to learn,” said Kherat. “It teaches important social, and emotional skills that are so needed today, more than ever before. And pre-K also fosters the development of verbal skills and self-control.”

Pritzker said his proposal will provide a $40 million increase in early intervention services, and another $70 million for the state's Child Assistance Program for working class families.

“From home visiting and early intervention, to child care for infants and toddlers, to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, Smart Start Illinois is a comprehensive plan to build one of the best early childhood systems in the nation,” said Pritzker. “It's what our kids deserve, it's what our parents deserve, and we owe it to them to deliver.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said improving early childhood education in Illinois will “build the foundation for a thriving society.”

“Studies show that by age 5, 90% of a child's brain has already developed, so we must take the critical steps to touch their lives and to teach them well before that,” said Stratton. “Smart Start Illinois is the plan that can and will achieve this by providing access to preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old in our state.”

Pritzker acknowledged that a major key to having a successful early childhood education system is getting more people interested in becoming educators. He said as part of the Smart Start plan, Illinois would launch the country’s first “early childhood workforce compensation contract program.”

“That’s a lot of words that mean: we're going to bring stability to the field by increasing wages for a workforce that is primarily women and people of color, so that we can attract and retain many more people into the childcare field,” he said. “We’ll also raise the standard of care to ensure quality early childhood programs.

“Smart Start will pair higher wages with an early childhood scholarship program, allowing us to expand the pipeline of early childhood educators in Illinois. Already over 1,500 individuals have received scholarships since the program began last academic year. That program will continue on, not just this year but in the subsequent three years, at least under the plan that I've put forward.”

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said investing in early learning can help break a cycle of poverty, pointing specifically to the city’s south side.

“In the ZIP code where we are all sitting or standing right now (61605), only 17% of the children residing here enter kindergarten ready to learn. Seventeen percent,” said Ali. “That can change with the transformational, generational investments this governor is planning to make in early childhood education and childcare, the teacher pipeline, higher education and efforts to fight poverty.”

Among the other speakers at Tuesday’s event were State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, school board president Martha Ross, city council member Andre Allen, Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin, and Valeska Hinton principal Katie Cobb and special education resource teacher Alicia Blake-Guyton.

“The first 2,000 days of a child's life is the most essential time to feed their growing brains. This is the time they truly start to become a product of their environment,” said Blake-Guyton. “It is up to us as parents, teachers, family and community members to equip them with the knowledge they need in order to be successful when they get to the next chapter: ‘big kids school.’”

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.