022123CM0230SPRINGFIELD – In collaboration with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas introduced new legislation to clarify and expand offerings and funding for community schools in Illinois, ensuring that innovative community education models can reach more geographies.

“As a former community schools director, I can testify to the numerous benefits community schools yield for students, their families, and communities at large. Thriving communities have strong neighborhood schools that extend their walls into the neighborhood,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “Community schools complement formal schooling by providing out of school time programming including arts enrichment, homework help, leadership development, sports, and adult education. The positive impact can be transformational for young people and an entire community. This initiative will support greater access to students and families across Illinois.”  

Community schools are schools that cultivate and sustain strategic partnerships between the school and other community resources to promote student achievement, positive learning conditions, and the well-being of students through wraparound services. SB2391 adds language about a designated program coordinator and articulates types of wrap-around services that could be offered in a community school.

Currently, the Illinois State Board of Education passes through federal grants to create new sites and support existing community schools across the state. Senate Bill 2391 broadens the offerings of community schools, promotes trauma informed interventions, and encourages the state to ensure funding opportunities through state and federal resources.  

“Every school should have access to the resources needed to become a sustainable community school, including a designated community school coordinator, which is essential to link services and develop community partnerships” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. “The transformative power of community schools, and their unique capacity to serve all students, have proven to positively impact academic, health, and social outcomes for students by providing year-round, comprehensive, multi-faceted support for whole child/whole community well-being. With this legislation, it is our hope the number of community schools will increase throughout the state.”

Senate Bill 2391 passed the Education committee on March 7, 2023. It now goes to the Senate floor for further consideration.


Category: Press Releases

cpz release committee weekSPRINGFIELD – A legislative initiative introduced by State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas codifies home visiting programs administered by the Department of Human Services for over 30 years. Home visiting is an essential program in the early childhood ecosystem that helps eligible parents and caregivers support their child’s development from the prenatal phase through age five.

“We have to acknowledge that when a child is born, a parent is born as well. All parents desire to provide the best upbringing for their children, but instruction manuals do not come with each child. Unexpected challenges can arise for families and potentially undermine their ability to meet these needs,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “Home visiting programs are evidence-based and aim to support bond building, connect families to critical community resources, and provide guidance on wellness and development to contribute to optimal child outcomes and greater family stability.”

Typical home visits involve in-person interviews with family members and caregivers, guidance on promoting safety in the family’s living space, coaching on approaches to parenting that promote healthy development.  “Start Early has long championed the importance of home visiting programs for expecting and new families. We are excited to see SB1794 advance, which ensures these programs have the legal authority to continue to support Illinois families for generations to come,” said Ireta Gasner, Vice President Illinois Policy. 

Currently, DHS home visiting programs exist because of budget appropriations from the state or the federal government. This initiative to codify DHS home visiting programs contributes to the sustainability of critical resources for families with young children and sets the stage for increased investments as proposed in the Governor JB Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois plan. As such, Senator Pacione-Zayas, a longtime early childhood advocate, has been leading the charge to deepen the knowledge of General Assembly members to understand the importance of investing in the early years through a series of subject matter hearings in the Senate Early Childhood Committee.  

Senate Bill 1794 passed the Senate Health and Human Services committee on March 7, 2023. It now goes to the Senate floor for further consideration.

Category: Press Releases

Pacione Zayas BudgetAddressSPRINGFIELD – Following Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget address, State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas is excited about the proposed investments in early childhood, housing and violence prevention.

“I am thrilled that the governor and I share the same priority—doubling down on the promise of Illinois as the best state to raise young children,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “The proposed investments in early childhood are the first steps to accomplish this. I look forward to working with colleagues in both chambers to deliver the resources and tools for our young children and families to thrive.”

The governor established early childhood as a priority for the FY 2024 budget, allocating $250 million to the Smart Start Illinois early childhood initiative. The multi-year plan provides a comprehensive approach to investments in preparing children to be lifelong learners, and invests in ISBE Early Childhood Block Grants, Childcare Workforce Compensation Contracts, Early Intervention, DHS Home Visiting Program, Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarships, and more. 

As the chair of the newly formed Early Childhood Committee in the Senate, Pacione-Zayas is delighted that the issue is recognized as a statewide priority.

“When people think of early childhood, of course they consider supports for child care and the school system, but often don’t consider that early childhood development is about early experiences and therefore is affected by the family’s wages, living conditions, and access to high quality health care among many other factors,” Pacione-Zayas said. “The budget proposal is an amazing start to address these issues, and I look forward to collaborating with the governor and my colleagues to invest in our children.”

The budget also allocates $350 million in affordable housing, which supports stabilizing our communities by combating housing insecurity, folks facing difficulties finding work when experiencing homelessness, and battle gentrification in Chicago neighborhoods. It also invests in violence prevention programs, such as $635 million in the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and $138 million in the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“The rising cost of living not only disrupts the lives of folks who are priced out of their homes, it also disrupts and separates communities that have called neighborhoods home for generations,” Pacione-Zayas said. “Investing in affordable housing helps our fight against gentrification, and allow families to stay in the communities they have helped to shape.” 

Senator Pacione-Zayas looks forward to advocating for early childhood, housing, and violence prevention in the upcoming budget negotiations.


Category: Press Releases

cpz chair

SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas is thrilled to announce she will serve as chair of the newly formed Senate Early Childhood Committee in the 103rd General Assembly.

“As a lifetime advocate for early childhood education and development, I am excited to lead this new committee and develop policies that support the young children and families of our state,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “I am hopeful that with the creation of this committee, we will dive deeper into issues that impact early experiences and directly address them through policies that ensure young children throughout the state are supported during every stage of their development.”   

Pacione-Zayas has been a leader in early childhood policy during her tenure as State Senator. Her advocacy created the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity (ECACE), which provides financial and wrap-around support for members of the incumbent early childhood workforce while earning degrees and credentials to improve the quality of early childhood services and programs. She also led the Too Young to Test Act, which dismantles harmful testing procedures for young students in the state. She established the floor for economic eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to ensure that budgets are not balanced on the backs of families with limited economic resources. She championed legislation and secured a budget appropriation to fund $50 seed deposits in Child Savings Accounts for all newborns in Illinois and extended access to Early Intervention services for infants and toddlers who present with developmental delays. Lastly, she launched the first-ever Early Childhood Resource Fair with Senator Omar Aquino (D-Chicago) to help direct members of the community to resources that are available to them – setting their kids up for academic and personal success. She hopes to hold more early childhood resource fairs this spring in tandem with new legislation on these issues. 

The Senator’s strong background in early childhood care and education, predates her tenure in the Senate. Prior to joining in 2020, Pacione-Zayas was the Associate Vice President of Policy for Erikson Institute and established Erikson’s Early Childhood Leadership Academy and Community Data Lab—two statewide initiatives designed for Illinois leaders to foster deeper understanding of the importance of a child’s early years and how to apply child development science to policies that yield positive outcomes for children and families. She also served on the Illinois Early Learning Council, the Illinois State Team of the BUILD Initiative and the Title V Needs Assessment Advisory Committee for the state’s maternal and child health services, board of directors for the Illinois Network of Child Care and Resource Referral Agencies, and more. All of these roles addressed essential issues affecting early childhood care and education and combined with her experience in elementary and secondary education, her perspective has positioned her as a leader of early childhood care and education legislation. 

“I am proud that early childhood care and education is not only a priority for myself, but also for my colleagues in the General Assembly and the Governor, who recognized early childhood care and education as a focus for his new administration during his inaugural address,” said Pacione-Zayas. “The creation of this committee establishes early childhood development as a statewide priority, and I am honored to champion our youngest children through my leadership as Chair.” 

Committee schedules and live streamed proceedings are available at www.ilga.gov


Category: Press Releases

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