NAPERVILLE – First Lady Patricia Blagojevich today joined parents, children, and early education advocates at the DuPage Children’s Museum to highlight Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s landmark Preschool for All Plan- a program that will make Illinois the first state in the nation to offer high quality preschool to every three and four-year-old child.
“Like every parent, the Governor and I want our children to succeed. And starting education as early as possible is fundamental for children to do well in school. Learning how to read at an early age has a tremendous impact on the mental development of children,” said First Lady Patricia Blagojevich. “Now, thanks to the Governor’s Preschool for All program, every child in Illinois will have the chance to start reading early, the chance to start learning early, and most importantly, the chance to get ahead early in life and succeed.”
The Governor’s Preschool for All program will guarantee that nearly 190,000 children in Illinois have the chance to attend preschool. Studies have shown that students who attend preschool are more likely to graduate high school, less likely to need special education and less likely to be arrested for committing violent crimes.
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.
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). SB 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 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.
The recently approved budget for Fiscal Year 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.
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.
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.
At the Museum, the First Lady also read her May book selection for the Children’s Reading Club literacy initiative, “D.W.’s Guide to Perfect Manners”. In conjunction with the passage of the Preschool for All program, the First Lady will also add new selections to her reading club, to encourage parents of younger readers to engage in early development of reading skills.
As First Lady, Patricia Blagojevich has worked tirelessly to promote initiatives that help Illinois families bring up happy, healthy, and successful children. The Children’s Reading Club
is a recommended reading list made up of books the First Lady and her daughters enjoy at home. The First Lady launched this literacy initiative program in February of 2005, and has selected books such as The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web
, Harriet the Spy
, and Maniac Magee
for the recommended list. Each month’s book selection is featured on the First Lady’s website, http://www.illinois.gov/firstlady
. Mrs. Blagojevich began the Children’s Reading Club
to encourage parents to read with their children and hopes the recommended list will enable parents to find books the whole family can enjoy.
In addition to her work with children’s literacy, the First Lady spearheaded the Illinois Pediatric Vision Awareness Initiative, the first state sponsored campaign in the U.S. to specifically target Amblyopia, or ‘lazy eye’, in children. Mrs. Blagojevich has also brought attention to Healthy Families Illinois, a program that helps prevent child abuse by supporting high-risk parents. In addition, she has promoted the Prevention Development Resource Project, a partnership between the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, and the Governor’s landmark All Kids plan, which makes Illinois the only state in the nation to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance for every uninsured child in the state.