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February 7, 2002

Report Outlines Steps to Create “Universal Access” to Preschool

CHICAGO – Governor George H. Ryan today accepted the report of a task force chaired by First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan that outlines a multi-year framework for providing all three-and-four-year-olds in Illinois with access to quality early childhood education programs.

The report, “Ready, Set, Grow – Illinois Preschool,” caps 10 months of work by the Governor’s Task Force on Universal Access to Preschool, which Ryan created last year to study the issue of preschool programs.

The governor said the report will be the foundation of the state’s next step in building a comprehensive early childhood education program in Illinois.

“Scientific studies provide strong evidence that quality early education plays a critical role in the healthy development of children and helps build the foundation for a child’s lifelong thinking and behavior,” Ryan said. “These studies tell us that there is a direct link between quality early education and greater success in school and work.”

The First Lady added that universal access to early childhood education is needed to help Illinois keep pace with other states that are moving forward with coordinated statewide early education programs.

“I have talked about the importance of this issue with First Lady Laura Bush,” Mrs. Ryan said. “She and President Bush are strongly behind the effort to expand and improve preschool and early learning. This is the direction we must go in Illinois.”

The report outlines a comprehensive framework for universal access over the next several years, beginning with six “pilot” programs in Fiscal Year 2003, which begins in July. By 2012, the report envisions more than 200,000 three-and-four-year-olds in early childhood classes that are part of a comprehensive statewide system.

The reports includes recommendations to:

  • Create “Illinois Preschool” in order to give “all Illinois families a choice of high-quality preschool options that are part of a seamless web of support from the birth of a child and including elementary school.”

  • Build a comprehensive system on the strong foundation of early childhood learning programs that exist now in Illinois.

  • Construct the infrastructure necessary for quality programs in all parts of the state.

  • Get more qualified teachers into preschool settings and ways to help child care workers develop professionally.

  • Improve early childhood curriculum and to make sure all children are getting the same opportunities in class.

  • Respond to the different needs of families in all parts of Illinois and to help them participate and be a strong part of any early childhood program.

The report estimates that the first two years of any plan to build a comprehensive preschool system would require $6 million to $14 million in funding, with costs rising to $137 million by the fifth year of the program, when all children could access preschool.

The governor noted that education experts throughout the country have long identified early childhood education as a key to success for young people.

“One of the struggles we’re dealing with today in our schools is an “achievement gap” that separates low-income and disadvantaged students and other youngsters when it comes to success in school,” Ryan said.

“The experts say the best way to close this achievement gap is to help prepare three-and-four-year-olds for school through quality early childhood programs. If kids are better prepared for school at an early age, they’ll do better during the rest of their school careers,” he added.

The governor said a study of Chicago Child-Parent Centers estimates that for every $1 invested in quality preschools, taxpayers save more than $7 in remedial education, health care, welfare benefits and public safety as these children get older. If applied to the rest of Illinois, these benefits mean an estimated saving to state government and taxpayers of $3.3 billion during the lifetimes of the children served by early learning programs.

Since 1999, state government has become a national leader in its funding for early education programs and among the five top states in the country for preschool education. Under Governor Ryan, state government support for Prekindergarten, Head Start and child care has grown by 53 percent to more than $533 million.

However, other states, including New York, Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina are moving ahead with comprehensive plans to provide all their children with access to preschool classes.

Governor Ryan also created the “Great Start” program, which promotes and coordinates career development and continuing education for child care professionals. Great Start is designed to help reverse the high turnover rate among childcare workers because of low salaries.

Currently, state supported early childhood programs serve 133,400 three-and-four-year-old children in Illinois, or about 36 percent of the total age group.

Surveys and community forums conducted by the Task Force show that high-quality early childhood programs in Illinois are the exception rather than the rule. The Task Force found that many parents cannot access or afford quality preschool programs in their communities.

Right now in Illinois, there is little consistency in family and provider eligibility, teacher requirements, hours of service, parent fees and curriculum when it comes to early childhood education. This creates service gaps and the inefficient use of tax dollars and it makes it difficult for many working families to find full-day, high-quality services and it’s difficult for providers to maintain stable, quality programs.

“This is a situation that has to change and change soon if we’re going to make a real impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren,” the governor said.


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