From Illinois Public Radio - News Local/State -

Business Leaders Push For Better Preschool Funding

Denise Wiktor works with preschool students at the Shiloh School in downtown Waukegan, Ill., Tuesday, April 18, 2006.

Denise Wiktor works with preschool students at the Shiloh School in downtown Waukegan, Ill., Tuesday, April 18, 2006. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

A coalition of Illinois business leaders want more funding for early childhood education. They say that would benefit the economy, but they don't agree on how to pay for it. 

As Illinois navigated the economic downturn, lawmakers made lots of cuts -- including to early childhood education. Advocates say over the years, that cuts off 25,000 kids from access to preschool. 

Lisa Savegnago, who owns a screenprinting business in the Chicago suburbs, said she was 'startled' by the state's cuts to early childhood education.

"Preschool opportunities help these children begin to develop the soft skills that business leaders value in employees such as creativity, critical thinking and the ability to collaborate in teams," Savegnago said. "Not only do they need to run machines, but they need to be able to work with each other and communicate."

The coalition of business leaders is asking for $25 million to begin restoring cuts made since 2009. But they are not saying where Illinois should raise that money -- just asking for it to be prioritized in the state's budget. 

Brad Billings, CEO of Quincy-based Blessing Health System, cites a new report by Cornell University that states local economies, especially small businesses, stand to benefit most from that investment. According to the study, for every dollar invested in early childhood programs, the local economy recoups $1.94.

He said the workforce of the future will need more technical skills, and he said that begins before kindergarten. 

"If we don't grasp that at the political level, the legislative level, citizens in this state are going to have a hard time being part of a competitive workforce in the future," Billings said.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who is seeking re-election, is trying to push a so-called "Birth to Five" initiative of his own, but lawmakers are juggling an already-thin budget in the face of a scheduled income tax decrease next year.