As Gov. JB Pritzker promoted his Smart Start Illinois proposal, which is designed to expand access to preschool and child care, two Sauk Valley-area school administrators with award-winning preschools seemed receptive to the boost in funding.
Riverdale Preschool in Rock Falls is a Gold Circle of Quality Award winner, which is a recognition for excellence by ExceleRate Illinois and the Illinois State Board of Education.
[ Gold rating for Rock Falls preschool center ]
Yet, a big challenge toward maintaining that excellence is obtaining regular funding through the state’s existing Early Childhood Grant program, said Chelese Palmer, Riverdale Preschool administrator in District 13.
It is encouraging that the Smart Start Illinois Plan could provide more money to support high-quality universal preschool programs and other much needed community services such as child care, home visiting, and early intervention.”
— Chelese Palmer, Riverdale Preschool administrator
If Smart Start Illinois alleviates that, it would be welcome.
“The design of the current funding grant is that we should be able to outline our needs and request a reallocation of funds every three years,” said Palmer.
Yet, the last time that reallocation went through was 2017. As she says, “A lot has happened since 2017.”
From COVID-19 alone, schools have seen how the pandemic affected the cognitive abilities and social-emotional learning of children.
Palmer finds the Smart Start Illinois Plan “encouraging” because it would fund outreach and support beyond the classroom.
“It is encouraging that the Smart Start Illinois Plan could provide more money to support high-quality universal preschool programs and other much needed community services such as child care, home visiting, and early intervention,” Palmer said. “It is important for Illinois residents to support funding for the youngest community members on their way to becoming our future community builders.”
Dixon Public Schools’ Preschool for All is also a Gold Circle of Quality Award winner. Last fall, additional state funding allowed Dixon to make room for another 40 students. The governor’s proposal would make the program universal.
“We know the importance of pre-K,” said Superintendent Margo Empen after the board meeting on Wednesday. She said she had not reviewed the governor’s full proposal but was aware of efforts by the Illinois State Board of Education to prioritize early childhood education.
“We see the impact of our Preschool for All in ECE programs and how kids who enter kindergarten are much more ahead. So if there was something like that, I think that’s great.”
She drew a distinction between universal access to preschool, which this funding proposal appears to be, and mandatory participation, thinking there might be pushback from some parents if it were the latter.
“I don’t know, quite frankly, what the answer to that is,” Empen said, “but I do know the power of it and the benefit educationally, socially, and emotionally, and how kids who are in our Pre-K for All programs are prepared for kindergarten.”
While visiting a preschool in Springfield on Thursday, Capitol News Illinois reported that Pritzker said: “It is important for us to make sure that every 3- and 4-year-old in Illinois can go to preschool and has child care available to them. We’re going to put more money into the hands of providers to expand their programs, raise quality and hire more staff.”
The multi-year plan calls for spending $250 million next year to increase state funding for child care providers and for early childhood block grants administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. It also includes additional funding for early intervention programs and the Department of Human Services’ home visitation program. Additional funding would be required in subsequent years.
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February 21, 2023 at 11:35AM