With the help and support of Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) House Bill 2396 successfully passed in the Illinois Senate and is on its way to bring all-day Kindergarten to families across the state of Illinois. 

“It’s on its way to the Governor,” Lightford said. “The Governor is pleased to sign it. He is making a really big push regarding early childhood education and the continuation through elementary school.” 

When signed, the bill will take effect this upcoming school year and include a four- year phase-in, said Lightford. 

The bill was filed by Rep. Mary Beth Canty on Feb. 14, 2023 and originally had amended the school code concerning kindergarten requiring each school board establish full-day attendance for kindergarten beginning with the 2023-24 school year. 

During the first amendment of the bill, the date for establishing a full day of classes was changed to the 2027-28 school year, to allow for school districts and the state to properly plan for the change and aid in the transition. 

According to the House Floor Amendment No. 1, districts must ensure classes are developmentally appropriate and provide play-based learning. A Full-Day Kindergarten Task Force will also be created to help conduct a statewide audit to collect and report specific criteria. During a following amendment, The Task Force will be required to issue an interim report by Nov. 15, 2024 and a final report to the General Assembly as well as the governor’s office by Jan. 31, 2025. 

Additionally, the house bill also required that beginning with the 2027-28 school year, each district may establish a half-day attendance option for kindergarten. According to Lightford, districts currently offering half-days will also need to implement a full-day option. 

According to Lightford, a similar initiative was attempted a few years back but was met with hesitation from school districts which gave reasons as to why they could not provide all-day classes. This time around, the house bill allows for districts which meet certain criteria to be granted a two-year additional extension to begin full days. Lightford said there will be aid and assistance to get those districts on board. 

“If a school district says we don’t have adequate space, we will help provide funding for construction,” Lightford said, adding more opportunities for help for districts will be available including assistance in teacher recruitment. “We are really working with school districts to try to put them on track [so that] at the end of four-years, across the state, over 800 school districts will have full-day kindergarten.” 

The all-day option is a big win for students, said Lightford. 

“We know kindergarten is a pivotal year for young children and families, and we know it is their entry point in K-12, into the educational system,” Lightford said. “During that time, that is when a child’s most foundational skills are most developed.” 

By allowing more time in the classroom, Lightford said children will be able to receive the attention and have the opportunity to learn more than they would during half-days. This also takes into consideration working families across the state of Illinois whose children are enrolled in all-day childcare programs. A shift from a full-day daycare to half-day required kindergarten does not make sense, Lightford suggested.

“I don’t know how you plan to have that kid ready by third grade if you suddenly drop from a full day to two or three hours,” Lightford said, adding a consistent all-day program will set children on a track to better literacy skills, attendance, and overall an increased value in education. “I just think the younger they are and we focus on literacy, language skills, bilingual education and we do all these things in Kindergarten, we will have a smarter, stronger generation of future leaders.” 

The move to have statewide all-day kindergarten allows families to be able to create stability and eliminate some issues surrounding childcare for the hours their children are out of school, said Lightford to Village Free Press.

“It is important that we create equal access to education on every level,” said Lightford in a press release. “This measure will ensure all families in Illinois are provided with the same opportunities for their children early on.”

House Bill 2396 passed in the Senate on May 19, 2023.