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Recent Projects:

Illinois Early Childhood Funding Commission

Statewide Commission Facilitation

Afton facilitates statewide commission on equitable early childhood education and care funding.

In December 2019, the Governor of Illinois established the Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding. The Commission’s charge is to establish funding goals and funding mechanisms that ensure equitable access to high-quality early childhood education and care services for all children birth to age five. The Commission is also charged to advise the Governor in planning and implementing the Commission’s recommendations. Afton supported the establishment, structuring, and launch of this Commission, and Afton facilitated most aspects of the Commission’s work, including 40 public meetings over the course of 2020.

There are several key components of work to deliver on this charge. 

  1. Funding Adequacy.  The Commission will articulate “the number”- that is, what increased investment is required to provide equitable access to high-quality ECEC services for all children in Illinois ages birth to five. Afton is supporting this through the validation and refinement of an adequacy costing model. 
  2. Management & Oversight.  The Commission will determine what state agency structure will provide policy leadership, funding and oversight, infrastructure, and communications for early childhood education and care, reenvisioning today’s fragmented system. 
  3. Funding Mechanisms.  The Commission will recommend how the early childhood education and care system of funding should be redesigned.

Alongside staff from the Governor’s Office, Afton established and facilitated four public Working Groups meeting monthly over 7 months to conduct research and analysis to lead to the Commission’s recommendations. The Commission’s work was finalized in Summer 2021, sending its recommendations to the Governor. 

In 2022-23, Afton supported updates to this effort, resulting in a $250 million investment to fund the first year of Smart Start Illinois, the Governor’s early childhood initiative. This investment is intended to eliminate preschool deserts, stabilize the child care workforce, and expand Early Intervention and Home Visiting programs. An additional $91.6 million of the budget went toward other early childhood investments.

All information on the Commission’s progress can be found on the website for Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, here

Our Insights

Adequate funding of early childhood education and care for children ages birth to five is a moral imperative. As of Fall 2019, 29% of Illinois kindergarteners showed readiness in all three kindergarten readiness developmental areas, while 37% did not demonstrate readiness in any developmental area. As Illinois advocacy groups have asserted, “The data underscores the need for deeper investment in high-quality early childhood services for children before they enter kindergarten, with a specific focus on equity – particularly improving access and quality for children from Black and Latino communities, children from low-income households, English Learners, and students with special needs.”

Getting the process and the working structure of a public Commission right is critical to delivering on visionary and pragmatic recommendations that are grounded in diverse perspectives, research, and data. A critical first step in Afton’s process with the Governor’s Office was to facilitate the Commission in understanding its charge and establishing its Guiding Principles, collectively the lens through which all recommendations are filtered. Afton strongly believes that alignment on your “north star(s)” is imperative for grounding conversations, visioning a new system, making difficult trade-off decisions, and pressure-testing recommendations. Related to process, we structured the Commission to meet monthly for over a year, and the Commission created 4 working groups to explore designated topics central to the Commission’s charge.  In all, over 40 public meetings were held, including working group meetings enabling deeper discussion and analysis. Alongside the Commission’s public meetings and public working group meetings, the Commission implemented stakeholder engagement in the form of town halls, engagement of national experts, and bringing in voices from the field into Commission meetings. 

Stats & Impact