By Elliot Regenstein, Senior Vice President, Advocacy & Policy
We appreciate that Governor Rauner’s FY2018 budget proposal continues to prioritize children and families. The proposed increases or level funding for early learning programs that serve young children and their families are important investments in our future, and they would help us build on the significant increases in early childhood education at the Illinois State Board of Education provided by the governor and General Assembly over the past few years.
Unfortunately, that future is more precarious every day because of the ongoing budget impasse and the lack of adequate revenue to meet the state’s obligations for these valuable services. The governor and General Assembly have yet to find a path forward. Programs that provide life-changing services—such as home visiting services for expecting and new families—have suffered without a budget for the past 20 months and have had to implement closures, layoffs and other cost-saving measures that ultimately impact the lives of our state’s most vulnerable children and families. Every day that passes in FY2017 without a budget puts programs further at risk and offsets the potential gains from the proposed funding increases.
Investing in quality early learning is vital in putting young families on the path to success. And it’s good for our state—Nobel prize-winning economist Dr. James Heckman recently released new research showing that investments in quality early learning have a 13% return on investment. Today’s FY2018 budget proposal from Governor Rauner included investments in children and families such as:
- $50 million increase to the Early Childhood Block Grant
- $151.3 million increases to the Child Care Assistance Program to restore eligibility to families earning up to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level
- Level funding for DHS-funded home visiting
- $4 million increase to funding for Early Intervention
- Increased funding for English learners, as part of an overall increase in support for education
We also know that for children to thrive, other family support programs are needed in addition to early learning programs. As we analyze the budget and monitor negotiations, we continue to advocate for all programs that are essential supports for children and families.
We agree with the governor that we, as a state, should never settle for being average; indeed, Illinois has been a national leader in early learning for many years thanks to bipartisan support. Sadly, the ongoing budget impasse and lack of adequate revenue continue to push Illinois in the wrong direction. We know that for Illinois to truly support its most vulnerable, the state must commit to a path toward sustaining its investments. That path includes raising enough revenue for the state to pay its bills and meaningfully make these investments.
Governor Rauner is right: we are at a crossroads. If children and families are truly our top priority—as they should be—the governor and General Assembly will come together to enact a 2017 budget immediately and craft a fully funded, full-year 2018 budget that invests in our children, families, communities and state. If we get more of the same, we will know that those children and families, in fact, are not our state’s top priority—and that will send the wrong message about the future of Illinois.