By Elliot Regenstein, Senior Vice President, Advocacy & Policy
As Illinois is in its 7th month of operating with no budget, the state of our state’s early childhood education system is growing more precarious by the day. We appreciate Governor Rauner’s call for Illinois to demonstrate continued leadership in funding quality early childhood education as an essential part of a larger investment in our overall education system. First, we must ensure that our programs are funded currently. During the budget impasse, many providers aren’t getting paid and are being forced to close programs offering vital services to young children and their families. We were disappointed that the governor didn’t more directly address or propose a plan of action on the FY16 crisis.
We support better alignment of health and human services with cradle to career education initiatives, but the budget impasse is threatening programs foundational to a comprehensive system. We are gravely concerned about the future of Illinois’ home visiting programs that for many families are the entry point into our nationally renowned early childhood education system. Home visiting programs help families realize their own potential. They offer support and coaching to pregnant women, young parents and children birth through age 3. These voluntary, research-based services have a proven track record of improving health outcomes for vulnerable moms and babies and increasing children’s school readiness.
As unappropriated programs not covered by consent decrees, home visiting programs across the state have begun to reduce services and lay off staff. 6,000 families across the state stand to lose these services if we don’t resolve the budget impasse soon. This budget crisis is also putting at risk millions upon millions of federal dollars; in home visiting funds alone, the state is at risk of losing $40 million in federal funding.
The people of Illinois do indeed deserve nothing less than the best education system in America, and we know school readiness for young children is not just about programs funded through education dollars. For children to be ready for school, they need stable housing, nutrition and healthcare, as do their parents—all of which are similarly threatened by the continuing budget impasse.
Along with home visiting, Preschool for All, Early Intervention and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) are just some of the interconnected programs that make up the early learning system in Illinois. There are more than 10,000 children who can’t access safe, reliable child care because CCAP eligibility is still restricted due to the budget impasse. While currently funded, the long-term sustainability of these programs depends on adequate levels of funding. Without a fully-funded FY16 budget and the corresponding revenue to support it, these programs are still at risk.
Thanks to bipartisan support and strong investments in children and families, Illinois has long been renowned for its early learning system. That system is being shaken to its very core. Many programs cannot wait weeks or months for relief. We have long believed that it is essential to have the sustainable revenue necessary to support programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable children and families. We call upon the governor, and all elected officials, to prioritize our state’s children and families by funding these critical programs.
About the Ounce of Prevention Fund
The Ounce of Prevention Fund is a private-public partnership dedicated to providing all children—especially those from low income families—with high-quality early childhood experiences from birth to age 5. The Ounce aims to be the nation’s trusted source for early childhood research and program models that focus on the physical, social and emotional development of children from birth to age 5. To give children and families most in-need the best chance for success, the Ounce develops programs, conducts research, trains educators and strongly advocates for early childhood education. Our early childhood programs, such as Educare, have created national models of high-quality early childhood education, ensuring that more children have access to opportunities best suited for their future success.