More Illinois Toddlers Head for 'Smart Start' in Early Education
Friday, May 19, 2023
Researchers say a lot of learning begins even before birth - and especially between birth and age five.
Gov. JB Pritzker's "Smart Start Illinois" is a plan to increase access to early learning services for young families across the state.
Supporters of the plan say it not only benefits children through high-quality learning, but would function as stable, reliable childcare so their parents can work or go to school.
Julissa Cruz, senior director of community-based advocacy at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, said she's optimistic about the transformative impact she believes the plan will eventually have on the workforce.
"You have a workforce that's comprised of mostly Black and Brown women, who are making wages that they themselves qualify for public assistance," said Cruz. "Smart Start would really start to rectify that pay scale, and really work closer to pay equity."
The governor's plan aims to supply as many as 500 three and four-year-olds with early-learning access as soon as fiscal year 2024.
Cost is expected to be the biggest barrier in implementing the plan and making sure it continues beyond Pritzker's tenure.
Smart Start plans to serve other areas, too, including home visits and early intervention for children who may need more robust support.
Cruz said each of those items will need support in order for families to access all aspects of early learning.
"When you have a child who's been identified early on as having either a cognitive or physical impairment, they go through what's called early intervention," said Cruz. "And then, you are connected to service providers who can provide that service - so, that may be occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy. That system is individual contractors."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children under age five receive a developmental screening every six months.
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