Pritzker visits Rockford to promote better early education access

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Governor JB Pritzker made a trip to Rockford on Wednesday.

Nashold Early Childhood Center was Pritzker’s last stop on his "Smart Start Illinois" tour, and his visit was all about early education.

Pritzker stressed the importance of helping every child find the best education while also making educators’ jobs a little easier.

"The idea of expanding access to potentially hundreds, if not thousands of additional students in our community is exactly what we need," said Dr. Ehren Jarrett, RPS 205 superintendent.

"Smart Start Illinois" is a multi-year plan to help children in the state receive adequate education at an early age.

"[It] will provide every 3- and 4-year-old in Illinois with access to a preschool program, ensure that more of our vulnerable families can receive evidence backed, evidence based early intervention and home visit services and provide more equitable access to the childcare system," Pritzker said.

Three hundred and fifty million dollars will be invested into programs and facilities this year. That includes increased wages and more stable funding aimed at improved the educational workforce.

"They come to work everyday to foster a love of learning that children will hold onto for the rest of your lives, and these professionals, who are predominantly women and people of color, deserve the respect and attention that shows they are invaluable to this family unit," said Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.

"It’s about more than just teaching, it’s about creating a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment for children ages 3 to 5 to learn, play and explore," added Annika Voss, an early education teacher for RPS 205.

"Forty-five minutes one direction is childcare for your home, but work is 45 minutes the other direction, that’s a childcare desert," Pritzker concluded. "Even if you had childcare in your home area, but its full childcare or preschool, that’s an early childhood desert as well, so this will be the beginning of the end for early childhood deserts in Illinois."

Many critics of "Smart Start Illinois" said they support the idea but believe that more state budget reforms are needed to help pay for it.

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February 22, 2023 at 09:30PM

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