Educators urge state to push early childhood education

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

The state has added $50 million in funding for early childhood funding, but another $170 million in need exists, according to an Illinois State Board of Education official. (Photo courtesy of Illinois State University)

Amanda Pilger thought she was prepared to be the perfect mom.

She had baby-sat for years, taught youth swimming lessons in the summer, studied education in college and even taught.

“When my first child came, I realized I had a lot to learn,” said the Monmouth mother of three.

Through playgroups she was introduced to a YMCA early childhood education program that helped her with questions and issues. Pilger eventually ran the group for a few years herself.

“I was so glad I don’t have to do it alone,” Pilger told members of the Illinois State Board of Education on June 13 in urging them to find more money for early childhood education.

“I have support from my husband and family in the area,” Pilger said. “I can’t imagine being a single mom or an immigrant family and not having that support. They need that support. Don’t take it away. I can’t imagine being in their situation. Birth-to-3 education is essential. I hope (the State Board) does designate money for early childhood. The thoughts of not having these programs are scary.”

Even though Illinois lawmakers added $50 million to early childhood education block grant funds for this fiscal year, need still exists.

Robert Wolfe, the Illinois State Board of Education’s chief financial officer, said that despite the funding increase in the state budget, another $170 million would need to be added to the block-grant fund to meet all the funding application requests.

The $50 million funding bump in early childhood education is part of $8.4 billion in elementary education spending in the state’s 2019 fiscal year budget.

The increase in early childhood funding was applauded by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a crime-prevention organization.

The law-enforcement group said quality early childhood education is essential in getting kids started on the road to a productive, law-abiding adulthood.

“We simply cannot arrest our way out of crime,” Riverdale Police Chief David DeMik said at a recent visit to a preschool. “That’s why we’ve got to make an investment in preschool today, to avoid paying a higher price tag for crime and violence in the future.”

Joining DeMik at the Riverdale-Dolton Early Childhood Center for the recent visit were state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and other police chiefs from south suburban communities. The chiefs pointed to two separate studies to prove their point.

One study found that at-risk children who did not attend high-quality preschool programs are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18. The other showed that students who did not attend quality preschools are five times more likely to be chronic offenders with five or more arrests by the age of 27.

“We all end up benefitting (from high-quality early education) in the end,” Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis said. “I am a product from the 1960s’ Head Start programs.”

The early childhood funding increase keeps the state on pace with its five-year plan to ramp up early learning with the help of federal resources. Part of the plan includes boosting the number of at-risk children enrolled in full-day programs.





—– Educators urge state to push early childhood education —-