cpzonthefloorSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas, the chair of the Senate Early Childhood Education Committee, is excited to announce that the Illinois Board of Higher Education has awarded $3.37 million in Early Childhood Faculty Preparation Grants. These grants will support working adults from diverse backgrounds and those who work with diverse populations working to join or continue their career in the early childhood workforce.

“If we want to make child care more accessible, we need to make the child care industry sustainable for members of its workforce — ensuring they do not take on large amounts of debt to pursue this career with low wages,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “These grants will support folks looking to further their career in this field by taking away financial barriers to success.”

By granting scholarships and other academic and holistic supports for 78 students to earn a master’s degree, the Early Childhood Faculty Preparation Grants are intended to expand the pool of providers and help diversify the faculty in early childhood education. Those who enroll in the programs are expected to graduate by the summer of 2024.

“We need more folks in our child care workforce, and we need the workforce to be made up of employees with diverse backgrounds and perspectives so children can receive the most full-rounded and inclusive education,” said Pacione-Zayas. “This plan will address both of these concerns, allowing our children to receive the high-quality child care they deserve.”

Grant amount by institution:

Illinois State University - $800,753

Lewis University - $358,390

National Louis University - $1,191,511

University of Illinois Chicago - $1,027,989

Category: Press Releases

cpz 2039SPRINGFIELD – In collaboration with a 20th district constituent, a new initiative led by State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas to connect more children with intellectual or developmental disabilities to essential supports has just passed the Senate, making it one step closer to becoming law.   

“When caregivers find out about the resources available from the PUNS database, they are often frustrated before feeling relieved, as they could have sought access for the necessary supports to improve their child’s quality of life if this program had been better publicized,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “Our goal with this legislation is to prevent further miscommunications or frustration and simply connect caregivers to helpful resources as soon as possible.” 

The Prioritization of Urgency of Need for Services (PUNS) database is a statewide database maintained by the Illinois Department of Human Services that records information about individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities potentially in need of services. The PUNS database is available to all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have unmet services needs anticipated within the next five years. 

Those not in the PUNS database are not in the queue for state developmental disability services, meaning if a parent or caregiver does not know about this program and does not enroll their child, they will have a significantly longer wait time to access critical resources. 

To make sure children and caregivers are aware of the PUNS database and its importance with accessing resources, Senate Bill 2039 would require every public school in the State of Illinois to have at least one designated employee who is educated about the PUNS database, steps required to register students, including the documentation and information parents and guardians will need for the registration process, and the appropriate contact for referring families to Independent Service Coordination (ISC)  agency to enroll children and adolescents in PUNS. During a student's annual Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, if a student has an intellectual and or developmental disability and it is unclear or determined that the student is not enrolled in the PUNS database, the family will be referred to the designated school employee who can assist with explaining the process to enroll and locating the ISC for assistance. 

“Children with disabilities should have access to the care they need to thrive — especially when there are existing resources in place to provide them this support,” said Pacione-Zayas. “This legislation will help connect children and caregivers to essential resources to improve their quality of life.” 

Senate Bill 2039 passed the Senate on Thursday, March 30. It now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. 


Category: Press Releases

cpz 1794SPRINGFIELD – 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. A legislative initiative introduced by State Senator Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas, which would codify home visiting programs administered by the Department of Human Services as they have done for over 30 years, passed through the Senate on Wednesday, March 29. 

“All parents want to provide the best environment in which to raise their child, but the resources needed to best support their children may be inaccessible for many caregivers,” said Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “Home visiting programs help connect families to community resources that can provide the support their children need to succeed, while also prioritizing 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 and coaching on approaches to parenting that promote healthy development.  

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 Governor JB Pritzker’s Smart Start Illinois plan. 

“Start Early is pleased to see SB1794 pass the Senate unanimously. Home visiting programs are critical for expecting and new families across the state, and we're encouraged to see united support of such impactful services from the Senate,” said Ireta Gasner, Vice President of Illinois Policy at Start Early. “We look forward to working with the members of the House to make this bill a reality.”

Senate Bill 1794 passed the Senate on Wednesday, March 29. It now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Category: Press Releases

cpz subject matter hearing march 22SPRINGFIELD – On Wednesday, the House Child Care Access & Early Childhood and Senate Early Childhood Education  Committees held a joint subject matter hearing to discuss public resources that support optimal development for infants and toddlers from the prenatal period to age three. Building on the first subject matter hearing that made the case for investing in the early years, the testimony highlighted the intent of programs and services, demographics of participants, specific considerations for young children with developmental delays and disabilities and multilingual learners, gaps in services, and the expected impact of increased investments. The committee heard a variety of perspectives including representatives of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, Erikson Institute, Illinois Head Start Association, the Illinois State Board of Education, Children’s Home and Aid, the Illinois Department of Human Services, Raising Illinois, and the Early Intervention Grassroots Alliance.

“Prenatal to age three is a vital time for early childhood development because 85 percent of the brain is developed during that period and has the greatest potential for fostering optimal growth,” said State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago), who also serves as the chair of the Senate Early Childhood Education Committee. “Illinois has a robust community of advocates and subject matter experts focused on the first three years of life and their testimony helped educate members and the public about the windows of opportunity to make a positive difference for young children and their families.” 

Witnesses highlighted the importance of addressing infant and early childhood mental health through capacity building of coaching early childhood professionals, comprehensive support provided to parents from home visits, advantages of center-based infant and toddler programs, and critical therapy provided through Early Intervention. Aside from acquainting members with the merits of the programs and services, testimony underscored the need to target service gaps, workforce vacancies, and deliberate coordination of services. cpzsubjectmatterhearing3yrs

Pacione-Zayas and State Representative Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee) are working collaboratively to advance a birth to five agenda through the General Assembly this session and are holding subject matter hearings to get expert opinions and lived experience on issues their legislation will address. 

“When folks think of early childhood investment, they usually only consider investing in our school system or child care. While these areas are essential to early childhood development, there are many more areas that affect a child’s early experiences,” said Pacione-Zayas. “These subject matter hearings will further explain additional considerations to have a fuller set of information on how we can make Illinois the best place to raise young children.” 

“The research is clear - babies are born ready to learn,” said Representative Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee). “When we provide high quality care and education, they will experience better outcomes throughout their lives. I can’t imagine a better investment than the futures of our children.”

The House and Senate Early Childhood Committees will hold another joint subject matter hearing on March 30 at 10 a.m. on eliminating pre-K deserts. To listen live, go to https://ilga.gov/houseaudvid.asp. 

Category: Press Releases

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