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Gov. Blagojevich joins parents and early childhood experts to celebrate major preschool expansion          Send a link to a friend

New state budget means $45 million more for preschool as legislature passes governor's Preschool for All plan

[MAY 8, 2006]  CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich joined children, parents and early education advocates Sunday at Christopher House on Chicago's North Side to applaud the Illinois General Assembly for passing a budget that provides historic funding increases for education in Illinois. The budget includes $45 million for the governor's Preschool for All plan, which puts Illinois on the path to providing high-quality preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old child in the state.

"We all want to see our children succeed," Blagojevich said. "And study after study shows that one of the best ways to help kids do well in school is by starting early. That's why we made preschool one of our top priorities in this budget and legislative session, and I'm proud we were able to put Illinois on the path to being the only state in the nation to offer preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old child. I applaud the General Assembly for passing our Preschool for All bill, and I want to thank all the legislators and advocates who worked so hard to make sure that this plan became a reality."

The language for Preschool for All was contained in Senate Bill 1497, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, and Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester. The bill, which won final legislative approval on Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk for his signature, amends the school code to authorize the use of state funds for pre-kindergarten services for children who are not defined as "at-risk." Under current law, pre-kindergarten funds are used exclusively to serve at-risk kids. At-risk kids have the greatest need of service, and numerous studies show that they benefit significantly from attending preschool.

However, there are many kids who do not meet the current definition of at-risk who could still benefit from preschool. For example, parents who make $50,000 a year may not have enough money to provide their child with high-quality preschool, but if the child doesn't have any other risk factors, they're not going to qualify for state-funded pre-kindergarten. In Illinois, the average annual cost of private early learning programs for 3- and 4-year-olds is $5,200, and the cost for two children can exceed $10,400 annually -- the salary of a minimum-wage earner. The new Preschool for All program will continue to prioritize at-risk children but expands it to also serve middle-income families.

Preschool for All will allow every community to offer high-quality preschool in a variety of settings, including public and private schools, child care centers, licensed family child care homes, private preschools, park districts, faith-based organizations, and other community-based agencies. The program requires that preschools be staffed by experienced teachers who hold bachelor's degrees and specialized training in early education, and the preschools must provide at least 2 1/2 hours per day of high-quality programming designed to foster all of the skills -- social, emotional, physical and cognitive -- that all young children need to achieve success in school and later in life.

The recently approved budget for fiscal 2007 includes $45 million to give 10,000 more children the chance to attend preschool. By providing increases of $45 million in each of the following two years, Illinois will give a total of 32,000 more kids the opportunity to attend preschool. After three years, every 4-year-old will be covered, plus more than 55,000 3-year-olds. In years four and five of the rollout, service will be extended to all remaining interested 3-year-olds.

"Preschool for All means that tens of thousands of children who would have been left out will instead have access to a quality preschool experience," said Harriet Meyer, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and co-chair of the Illinois Early Learning Council. "This crucial initiative would not have passed if not for the visionary leadership of Governor Blagojevich, bipartisan support in the legislature and the activism of hundreds of people from all parts of the state."

"The Illinois State Board of Education applauds Governor Blagojevich's leadership in proposing the Preschool for All Children program and is grateful that the governor and the legislature have provided the funding to make it a reality for Illinois families," said Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Jesse Ruiz. "Funding for early childhood education is one of the wisest investments our state can make, and all Illinoisans will benefit from this investment in our preschool-aged kids for generations to come."

"This is a victory for children and families," said Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for Children. "We should all be proud of the future we are providing children through high-quality preschool. We are making history in Illinois and thank the governor and the legislature for their vision."

"Preschool for All reflects the science that demonstrates success in education is dependent on what happens during children's earliest years," said Jerry Stermer, president of Voices for Illinois Children. "Governor Blagojevich and lawmakers from both parties agree on the critical goal of offering voluntary, high-quality preschool for all young children, and we thank them for their leadership."

"We applaud the state of Illinois for taking the lead in providing quality preschool programs," says Tim Carpenter, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. "Research shows that high-quality preschool reduces dropout rates, cuts crime, and prevents child abuse and neglect. Down the line it saves taxpayers millions in special education, welfare costs, court and prison expenses, and victim services."

"We need every weapon in the fight against crime," said Mark Donahue, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. "I'd rather see kids end up in caps and gowns than in handcuffs, and the research shows that preschool is a penny-wise and pound-smart way to start kids on the right path in life."

"This expansion of early learning will bring rewards very soon, as more and more children enter kindergarten ready to learn -- a significant benefit to students and teachers in all grades," said Adele Simmons, vice chair and senior executive of Chicago Metropolis 2020. "There also are long-term benefits to society. Every dollar invested today in early learning will save $7 that future taxpayers otherwise would have to spend on remedial education, social programs and even corrections, and early learning will give future Illinois businesses the advantage of more skilled workers."

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Countless studies demonstrate the benefits of early learning in preschool. Children who begin reading at age 3 or 4 do better throughout their academic careers. Children who received high-quality early education are 20 percent more likely to complete high school and 41 percent less likely to be placed in special education. In addition, children who received high-quality early education are 42 percent less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent offense and will have half as many criminal arrests, as well as have higher earnings and property wealth as an adult.

Investments in early childhood education also pay enormous economic dividends in the long term. Based on certain economic returns like increased earning potential, decreased dependency on social services and on the justice system, it is estimated that society receives $7.14 for every $1 spent on early childcare programs. That means the $90 million Blagojevich has invested over the last two years would yield at least $643 million in savings over the lifetime of those children. A newer study released in November 2004 found an even higher rate of return -- showing a savings of more than $17 for every $1 invested.

Despite unprecedented budget deficits inherited from the Ryan administration, Blagojevich has made early childhood education a top priority, fulfilling his promise to increase investments in the Early Childhood Block Grant by $90 million over three years. His commitment to expanding early childhood education continues to gain national attention. In the spring of 2005, a report released by Pre-K Now called Blagojevich a "Pre-K budget hero" for continuing his push for preschool expansion despite difficult financial conditions. And in November 2004, the National Institute for Early Education Research released its 2004 State Pre-School Yearbook, which ranked Illinois as one of the top three states for program quality. Illinois received praise for its teacher training as one of only 13 states to require certification for its early childhood teachers.

Education highlights of the budget include:

Investing in children

During his first three years, Blagojevich dedicated $2.3 billion of new funding for Illinois schools. This represents more new money invested in education than any other state in the Midwest, more than 43 other states in the nation and more than any other administration in one term in Illinois history.

For the fourth consecutive year, Blagojevich has provided a major increase in education funding -- $415 million more for education from pre-kindergarten through high school. The budget also funds new landmark initiatives proposed by the governor, including universal preschool, a pilot program to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and a grant for families struggling to afford the high costs of college. The total increase in education funding over four years is $3.8 billion, and the year-to-year increase from fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2007 is $1.5 billion.

School funding increases

This year's budget includes a $415 million increase for education spending from pre-kindergarten through high school, bringing the state's new funding for education to more than $3.8 billion over the last four years. This represents the largest increase by an administration in Illinois history.

Helping middle-class families pay for college

Building on his ongoing efforts to make college more affordable for students and families, Blagojevich provided the MAP program with its largest increase in 10 years, a boost of 10 percent over fiscal 2006, and expanded the program to help middle-income families as well. With a new investment of $34.4 million, Illinois will create MAP Plus to help middle-class families who don't qualify for the traditional MAP program and struggle to afford rising college tuition costs. MAP Plus will provide a $500 per-student grant for sophomores, juniors and seniors who attend college in Illinois. An additional increase of $34.4 million will boost MAP grants to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968, which will help more students and their parents afford college. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP.

Classroom size reduction

To reduce the size of Illinois kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, Blagojevich earmarked $10 million to help schools pay for more teacher salaries and benefits. Senate Bill 2882, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link and Rep. Michael Smith, creates a pilot program that will distribute the $10 million award as $50,000 grants among schools throughout the state. More teachers mean smaller classes. And, smaller classes mean more attention for each student from the teacher and a better learning environment.

Increase for higher education

This year's budget includes a $48 million increase for higher education. Universities will receive more than $18 million to attract and retain the best faculty, and community college grants will increase by almost $7 million.

In addition to his efforts in expanding access to early childhood education, Blagojevich has also been committed to expanding access to health care for children in Illinois. In November, he signed a new law creating All Kids, which provides all Illinois children with access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance.

[News release from the governor's office]

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