education bill signing

Gov. JB Pritzker signs into law a bill creating the new Department of Early Childhood 

BRAINCHILD: Gov. JB Pritzker has signed into law a measure that puts three different early childhood services programs all in one new department, the Department of Early Childhood.

From the bill-signing: “For years, they have navigated a system that is too often overly complex and sometimes completely disjointed,” Pritzker said Tuesday at the Eyes on the Future Child Development Center in Chicago’s Rogers Park. “Once fully implemented in 2026, this new agency will make life simpler, better and fairer for tens of thousands of Illinois families.”

Not a one-policy guy: Pritzker, who gets a lot of attention for promoting reproductive rights, has long been a supporter of early childhood education, too.

It’s a signature policy: Like the abortion issue, which has allowed Pritzker to get his message out beyond Illinois, early childhood has propelled Pritzker’s name outside of Illinois. Utahns know Pritzker’s name, for example, after he helped commit $20 million to an Early Childhood Innovation Accelerator more than a decade ago.

Pivoting to public office: When he became governor in 2019, Pritzker hoped to address early childhood issues in a big way. Instead he had to wrangle a budget crisis and a deadly pandemic. Early childhood education issues were put on hold.

With those challenges in check, Pritzker is zeroing in on early childhood issues. Along with creating a new state department, he pointed to the success of the Illinois’ Smart Start preschool program. And he’s not done.

Asked what got him started on the early-childhood, the governor said, “I looked at all of these various ways in which you could impact people’s lives in a positive way and early childhood was the one that had the biggest payoff for the most number of people for, ultimately, the lowest cost.”

He sought the advice of Irving Harris, the late Chicago philanthropist who also was interested in the issue, “and then began my journey,” Pritzker said.

The issue won’t fall under the governor’s Think Big America nonprofit that’s strictly focused on abortion, he told us, but it’s still a big part of his governing strategy. And like abortion, early-childhood is an issue that can set Pritzker apart from other possible future political candidates.