Springfield District 186 officials hopeful about Pritzker’s pre-k plan – The State Journal-Register


Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools District 186 Jennifer Gill speaks at a press conference given by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Smart Start Illinois at the Early Learning Center in Springfield Thursday Feb. 16, 2023.

The Early Learning Center serves more than 700 preschoolers in Springfield each day, in morning and afternoon classes. Yet, like many preschools in the state, the ELC has to turn down parents of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds because of a lack of staffing and space.

Springfield Public School District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said the center plus two satellite sites are all that currently exist to serve the local need. As a result, anywhere from 100 to 150 families can find their way on a wait list she said.

“The first second we have an open seat, someone graduates or moves away from our community, and we have a spot open, then we fill them up,” Gill told The State Journal-Register on Thursday.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced a $49.6 billion budget proposal on Wednesday during the 2023 State of the State address, where a provision could help alleviate the issue. The Smart Start Illinois initiative invests $75 million to expand the state’s Early Childhood Block Grant that has a goal of adding 5,000 pre-school seats this year. Overall, the initiative would grant preschool access to all 3 and 4-year olds and 20,000 slots by 2027.

More:After Pritzker’s budget address, lawmakers and others react with own spending agendas

Smart Start is a multi-tiered, $250 million program that would also address staffing issues experienced in early intervention programs and childcare facilities by providing workers a raise. It would also send $5 million to the Department of Human Services to expand its home visiting program.

Gill, Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder, and local Democratic legislators state Sen. Doris Turner of Springfield and state Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur, joined the governor at the ELC library, his first stop on a state tour Thursday promoting the budget proposal that will need General Assembly approval.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker talks about Smart Start Illinois at the Early Learning Center in Springfield Thursday Feb. 16, 2023.

“Every study says the same thing: access to quality childcare and early childhood education yields better results for children and parents alike,” the governor said. “In fact, it gives us the best return on investment of any government expenditure.”

Turner, who had two great-grandchildren attend ELC, said the proposal nearly brought her to tears on Wednesday.

“We have to remove the barriers that families face when deciding whether they can send their kids to school or put food on the table,” she said.

District 186 Pre-K coordinator Kevi Jackson said the new funding would allow the school to continue providing access to nutritious meals and transporting students, but also the opportunity to serve a larger student body.

Separate from the Smart Start plan, the governor’s budget proposal additionally calls for $100 million towards the Early Childhood Construction Grant to improve childhood care centers.

Gill hopes the district will receive funding through the construction grant to renovate and reopen a building on the north end of town for another Early Learning Center.

A potential location is the former Wanless Elementary School, which consolidated with Pleasant Hill Elementary following the 2012-2013 school year. The Grandview-area school now serves as home to the district’s Project SCOPE which provides childcare before and after school but not pre-school.

The governor addressed concerns about affordability for the program and other initiatives in his budget proposal, which Republican legislators warned would cause substantial tax increases leading to a recession.

Pritzker said his budgets were made with “conservative” estimates for state revenues that have held true with exception of the fiscal year 2021 – the first year of COVID-19. Revenues were estimated at $49.9 billion, a $1.4 billion reduction from the prior fiscal year.

Any surpluses accrued from revenues received by the sales tax, individual income tax, corporate income tax have gone into paying debts. he said.

“It’s a big deal,” Pritzker said, “because it also means an ongoing savings in interest that would have been owed.”

Contact Patrick Keck: 312-549-9340, pkeck@gannett.com, twitter.com/@pkeckreporter

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February 16, 2023 at 06:11PM

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