CHICAGO -- Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today visited the Vincent de Paul Center in Lincoln Park to mark the state’s success in providing funding to give 25,000 more children in Illinois access to pre-school, a goal he set in his first State of the State address in 2003. Including the $30 million increase in the new budget for the coming fiscal year, Illinois has increased preschool funding by $90 million – or 50 percent – over the first three years of Governor Blagojevich’s administration.
“On Tuesday night, we passed a budget. Now, a $54 billion budget contains a lot of things, but for me, one of the best parts of the budget is the money we spend on early childhood education. When I announced my first budget in early 2003, I set a goal of increasing spending for early childhood education by $90 million over three years, which meant sending 25,000 more three and four year olds to pre-school. And on Tuesday night – we passed a budget and fulfilled that commitment,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
“Fulfilling that commitment means that we have increased early education funding by 50 percent. And if you’re someone interested in the budget, that’s a significant statistic. But far more important than dollars and percentages is what this commitment means for children. When it comes to educating children, the experts all agree that pre-school is the single best investment that a state can make,” the Governor added.
“Investing in Illinois means investing in our families and in our children,” said Maria Whelan, president of Action for Children, one of the leading organizations in the Early Learning Illinois campaign. “We applaud the governor for having the vision to recognize this.”
“This Governor understands what’s important to our future. He knows that if we want kids to be able to read by 3rd grade and succeed later in life, we have to give them an early start,” said state Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago).
“These preschool increases represent a significant ‘down payment’ toward ensuring that every child has access to high-quality preschool services – the single greatest investment we can make in the well-being of children and our entire state,” added Jerry Stermer, president of Voices for Illinois Children. “We are ensuring that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed both in school and for the rest of their lives.”
Early childhood education is critical to helping at-risk children begin their formal educations with the same level of skills and abilities as other children. Research indicates that kids who start school behind their classmates often stay behind. For example, children who do not recognize the letters of the alphabet when they enter kindergarten demonstrate significantly lower reading skills at the end of first grade. According to Pre-K NOW, a national early childhood advocacy organization, eighty-eight percent of children who are poor readers in first grade will still be poor readers by fourth grade. Seventy-four percent of children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers when they start high school.
The Chicago Longitudinal Study on Early Childhood Education reported in 2001 that low-income children who attend quality preschool were:
29% more likely to complete high school;
41% less likely to be placed in special education; and
42% less likely to be arrested as a juvenile for a violent offense.
A similar study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that children who attend preschool have better reading, language, and social skills in kindergarten than children who did not attend preschool.
National experts in the field of early childhood education have recognized Illinois for its dramatic progress in recent years. In April, Pre-K Now, the leading national early pre-k advocacy group, recognized Gov. Blagojevich for making the most significant investment in early childhood education during a period of budget deficits. The report, Leadership Matters: Governor’s FY 2006 Pre-K Proposals, released on April 21, 2005, described Governor Blagojevich as a “Pre-K budget hero” for continuing his push for pre-school expansion despite difficult financial conditions.
The Pre-K Now report found that Illinois has the fourth largest separately-funded early childhood education program in the country. Only California, Massachusetts, and Florida are larger, according to the budgets introduced this year by those states’ governors. New York, for example, provides only $251 million for early childhood, according to the report, compared to Illinois’ $273 million for Fiscal Year 2006. The report also found that Illinois had the second largest increase in funding of any state, behind Florida which implemented a new constitutionally mandated program for $400 million.
In 2004, the National Institute for Early Education Research ranked Illinois as one of the top three states for its early childhood education program. Illinois received praise for its teacher training as one of only 13 states to require certification for its early childhood teachers.
In addition to new investments in pre-school education, the Fiscal Year 2006 budget also provides $330 million in new K-12 school funding, including nearly $99 million more for Chicago Public Schools. Gov. Blagojevich has secured $2.3 billion in new education money over the past three years – a rate of increase faster than any other state in the Midwest, and eleventh in the entire country, even before the most recent boost. Overall, the FY 2006 education budget represents a 19.8 percent increase over the FY 2003 budget, the first year Gov. Blagojevich was in office.