ROLLING MEADOWS – Joining families, childhood development experts, early childhood education advocates, and elected officials today at John G. Conyers Learning Academy, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed a law that makes Illinois the first state to make preschool available for all three and four-year-olds. Senate Bill 1497, creating the Preschool for All program, was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester). The budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1 includes an additional $45 million for Preschool For All, giving 10,000 more three- and four-year-olds a chance to attend preschool.
“Study after study and basic common sense tell us that giving kids the chance to start reading early and learning early is the single most important step we can take towards helping them become successful students. That’s why it’s so critical that every child in Illinois have the opportunity to attend preschool and it’s why we’re making Illinois the first state in the nation to make preschool available for every three year old and every four year old,” said Governor Blagojevich.
Senate Bill 1497 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 the current definition. 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 earn enough money to provide their child with high-quality preschool, but if the child doesn’t have any other risk factors, under prior law they would not 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 new Preschool for All program will continue to prioritize at-risk children, but expands it to also serve middle-income families. Studies have shown that middle-income children often don’t have access to preschool, but that access to preschool can make a real difference for them in their school readiness.
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, and 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 provide at least two and a half 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.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a leading expert in child development, joined the Governor for the bill signing. Dr. Brazelton, who holds degrees from Princeton and Columbia, has written 40 books on child development and developed the Emmy-award winning television show “What Every Baby Knows.” As a parent advocate, Dr. Brazelton has appeared before Congressional committees in support of parental and medical leave bills and worked to improve childcare support for all working parents. In 2002, Dr. Brazelton received the World of Children Award for his achievements in child advocacy. Currently, he serves as Professor of Psychiatry and Human Development at Brown University and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School.
“I think Illinois and Governor Blagojevich are setting the bar high for the rest of the country by instituting this program of early learning opportunity. Backing up your children at a time when they are so ready and excited to learn is critical,” said Dr. Brazelton. “We know from our own work that it is not just learning, it is giving children a chance to be evaluated for health and have models to live up to besides their own families. Entire families will profit from this program.”
“Making early education available to the children of Illinois is critical to their success, both in school and out of school,” said Rep. Currie. “Twenty years ago, I sponsored the legislation that made preschool available to at-risk children, and I'm thrilled that today we are expanding those services to all Illinois children.”
“I am honored to work alongside Governor Blagojevich on such a significant education initiative,” Sen. Lightford said. “I understand the urgency in reaching all 3 and 4 year olds as early as possible, especially children ‘at risk.’ Therefore, the basic principles in helping children succeed are generally taught in preschool programs. It has been proven that the earlier we can reach our youngsters and get them engaged in school and learning good habits, the more success they will have in their future academics.”
The Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes $45 million to give 10,000 more children the chance to attend preschool. The Governor’s education plan calls for an increase to $60 million in funding next year, and to continue increasing funding until all children who want preschool have access to it by Fiscal Year 2011.
Countless studies demonstrate the benefits of early learning in preschool. Children who begin reading at age three or four 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.
“We know that when kids have access to high quality early childhood programs they have improved lifelong learning,” said Jesse H. Ruiz, Chairman, Illinois State Board of Education. “Governor Blagojevich and the General Assembly have worked hard to make sure that our youngest children have this important first step in their education. Children, families, communities and our entire state will benefit from this investment now and well into the future.”
“Preschool for All is about opportunity – helping parents give their children opportunities to succeed in school and in life,” said Harriet Meyer, President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and co-chair of the Illinois Early Learning Council. “For children with the greatest needs, we will begin before preschool, starting in the first days of life.”
“This bill is the continuation of a legacy that our governor has begun--a legacy which at its core ensures the health and academic future of our children, a legacy which began with a $90 million dollar commitment for the ECBG. We are thrilled to partner with him on behalf of children and all the possibilities that this legislation leads to,” said Maria Whelan, President of Illinois Action for Children.
“Preschool for All reflects the science that demonstrates success in education is dependent on what happens during children’s earliest years. 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,” said Jerry Stermer, President of Voices for Illinois Children.
“ECDEC is one of the initial pre-kindergarten at risk programs serving children in Districts 15, 21, 23, 25, 26, 54 and 57 and we are honored to be part of this landmark legislative event in Early Childhood Education. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that preschool programs with developmentally appropriate, solid research-based practices based on Illinois' Early Learning Standards have a significant and positive educational impact not only in preparing children to enter kindergarten ready to learn but also in empowering parents to become active in their childrens' early school experiences,” said Kathy Villano, Project Director, Early Childhood Block Grant. “ECDEC staff and families are proud and excited that our legislators have made Gov. Blagojevich's Preschool for All a reality and hope to expand our programs in Schaumburg, Palatine and Wheeling Townships.”
“As the summer winds down, I’d rather see kids back in school than in the back of my squad car,” says Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy, State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. “Kids who attend quality preschool are more likely to complete high school and less likely to commit crimes -- law enforcement leaders know this and researchers from our most esteemed academic institutions agree. I applaud the Governor and Illinois’ legislators for voting for preschool, and for a safer Illinois.”
“This program will allow the children that we service additional teaching staff and support services that will prove to advance their educational careers,” said Kimberly Bianchini, President, Independent Operator of Advance Preschool, Inc.
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 Governor 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, Gov. 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, and then increasing it by another $45 million this year. Thanks to that commitment, this spring the national group Pre-K Now called Governor Blagojevich “the nation’s premier pre-K champion.” In addition, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has consistently ranked Illinois as one of the top states for program quality. Illinois has received praise for its teacher training, as one of the only states to require certification for its early childhood teachers.
Education highlights of the budget include:
Investing in Children
During his first three years, Governor Blagojevich dedicated $2.3 billion of new funding into 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 administration in one term in Illinois history.
For the fourth consecutive year, Governor Blagojevich has provided a major increase in education funding - $415 million more for PreK-12 education. The budget also funds new landmark initiatives proposed by the Governor including universal preschool, a pilot program to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade, and a grant for families struggling to afford the high costs of college. The total increase in education funding over 4 years is $3.8 billion, and the year to year increase from FY03 to FY07 is $1.5 billion.
School Funding Increases
This year’s budget includes a $415 million increase for PreK-12 education spending, 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, Gov. Blagojevich provided the MAP program with its largest increase in ten years, a boost of 10% over FY06, 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, Gov. Blagojevich earmarked $10 million to help schools pay for more teacher salaries and benefits. Senate Bill 2882, sponsored by Senator Terry Link and Representative 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, Gov. Blagojevich has also been committed to expanding access to healthcare 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.