SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced today that a new national survey gives Illinois’ early childhood education program high marks. Illinois’ Early Childhood Education Block Grant program ranks among the top three in the nation in the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) 2004 State Preschool Yearbook. NIEER’s State Preschool Yearbook grades state programs on quality criteria including curriculum standards, teacher training, class size and support services.
Despite unprecedented budget deficits, Gov. Blagojevich made a strong commitment to early childhood education. During the first two years of his administration, the Governor increased funding by $60 million for the Early Childhood Education Block Grant, enough for 16,000 more at-risk children to have access to the state’s quality early childhood program.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do for our state’s young children,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We know that children who have opportunities to start their education early in life have much better chances of succeeding later in life. That’s why in the past two years, we made important budget decisions to give even more children the chance to go to pre-school.”
The NIEER study gave Illinois a score of 9 out of a possible 10 for quality – making it one of only three states to receive a nine or higher. Illinois also stands out in the survey in the area of teacher training, as one of only 13 states to require certification for its Early Childhood teachers.
Illinois’ Early Childhood Program is targeted to reach at-risk children from birth to age 5. Targeted populations may include children from households with low parental education or children in poverty. Children are identified for enrollment in programs based on individual screening and assessment. The budget for this year’s program is $243 million, up $60 million from FY 2002.
Studies continue to demonstrate that preschool programs positively impact children’s success in school and later in life. A study conducted in Chicago Child-Parent Centers found that at-risk children participating in high-quality early childhood programs are 20 percent more likely to complete high school, 42 percent less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent offense and 41 percent less likely to need special education services.
Research also shows that preschool pays significant dividends to society. A study conducted by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation estimated the economic return of high-quality pre-school programs to be over $7 for every $1 spent on these programs.
In an effort to improve and expand early childhood education, Gov. Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 565 in July of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Graham (D-Oak Park) and Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), creating the Illinois Early Learning Council. The Council’s goal is to develop a high quality, early learning system that will be available to children age five and younger throughout the state. It examines ways to expand and improve existing, successful early childhood development programs – including Head Start, pre-kindergarten, health care and parental support programs. The Council will report its recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly.
NIEER, affiliated with Rutgers University, supports early childhood education initiatives by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. The entire NIEER State Preschool Yearbook report can be viewed at http://nieer.org/yearbook/.