Advocacy Group Presses for Illinois Preschool Funding
By Jim Meadows
A children's advocacy group says Illinois lawmakers must make funding preschool a priority, because enrollment has slipped by 14,000 over the past four years after a decade of gains.
According to Voices for Illinois Children, enrollment could slip by another 6,000 this year due to budget cuts. That warning comes in the group’s annual Kids Count report, which details lingering economic and educational challenges affecting young people across Illinois.
Speaking in Urbana on Thursday, Gaylord Gieseke, who is the president of Voices for Illinois Children, said that despite the drop in enrollment, public recognition of the importance of early childhood education has grown.
“The growth and understanding of the early childhood period and the importance of early childhood education and care has been really embedded, I think, in our culture,” Gieseke said. “I think the example of that was President Obama’s raising it up as a major policy initiative that he’s going to pursue.”
According to the new Kids Count report, there were 80,900 Illinois children in state-funded preschool programs, which is down from a peak level of 95,100 in 2009.
Gieseke said the state’s fiscal crisis has put many programs at risk.
“We’ve cut and cut and cut those things that we care deeply about, if we care about the future of all our children in the state,” she said. “And there has to come a point where you cut all the muscle and tissues, so to speak. We’re at the bone. It has to level off and start turning around.”
The 2013 Kids Count report identifies gains made in areas ranging from the state child welfare system to home visiting programs for at-risk families with infants and toddlers.