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Bill creating new childhood state agency at unknown costs ready for Pritzker

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(The Center Square) – Legislation creating a new state agency for early childhood programs is on its way to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk, but the estimated new costs to taxpayers remain unknown.

Late last year, Pritzker announced he wanted to start the Department of Early Childhood to oversee various programs for early childhood services. Senate Bill 1 creates that agency with a two year transition to handle various services. State Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, carried the bill.

“The Childcare Assistance Program, early intervention, home visiting, early childhood block grants including preschool for all and the preschool for all expansion and daycare licensing into the new Department of Early Childhood on July 1, 2026,” Canty explained.

The initial transition cost is expected to be $13.1 million, but a total cost for when the agency is ultimately created wasn’t known. State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said the state is creating a massive bureaucracy without knowing the taxpayer cost.

“I don’t think anywhere in the history of government, especially in the history of government in the state of Illinois, have we created the bureaucracy, especially massive bureaucracy and it worked out well for the taxpayers at the end of the day,” Wilhour argued in opposition.

In the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget, the Department of Human Services has $466.7 million outlined for early childhood programs. The Illinois State Board of Education has $786.8 million for early childhood. The Department of Children and Family Services has $60.5 million for the daycare line item.

State Rep. Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest, supported Senate Bill 1, saying it could bring taxpayer savings.

“When you’re spending money in four different places and you have the opportunity to bring it possibly under one roof … and spending it in that one way, I think there’s some good things that come out of it,” said Davis.

State Rep. Steven Reick wanted something to put the brakes on if it doesn’t work out. He said government agencies exist to expand their authority and budget.

“As H.L. Mencken said, ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and clamoring for safety by creating a series of hobgoblins most of them imaginary,” Reick said.

The expected salary for the cabinet level leader for the department will be nearly $215,000 a year.

After being approved by both chambers, the measure can now be sent to Pritzker’s desk.