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October 24, 2006

National report: Illinois sets the pace for preschool expansion with Governor’s Preschool for All program
Illinois is first state in nation to give all three- and four-year-olds opportunity to attend preschool

SPRINGFIELD – A national report released today by PreK Now, a Washington D.C.-based early education advocacy organization, recognized Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s Preschool for All initiative - making quality preschool available to all three- and four-year olds by 2011.  Gov. Blagojevich announced his Preschool for All agenda last spring, and in July signed the resulting legislation to establish Illinois as the first state in the nation to make all three- and four-year-olds eligible for publicly supported preschool. This legislation was accompanied by a $45 million increase to reach an additional 10,000 children this year, with similar growth planned until all children in Illinois are served.  
“We pressed for Preschool for All because we know all children will benefit from quality early learning,” said Gov. Blagojevich, who has made preschool expansion a top priority of his administration. “This report demonstrates that by working together and focusing on kids, we can make Illinois stand out.”
Pre-K Now released Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2007 on October 24.  The report examines state funding for preschool initiatives in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Illinois represents the leading edge of a quickening national trend that saw a record-setting 31 state legislatures increase funding to offer more families preschool access and improve program quality in FY 2007. Over just the past two years, preschool funding has grown by over $1 billion, according to Votes Count.  Illinois’ $45 million increase comes immediately on the heels of a three-year, $90 million expansion that laid the foundation for Preschool for All. The  Votes Count report will be available at 8:00 a.m. October 24 at: http://www.preknow.org/documents/legislativereport_oct2006.pdf
“Policymakers around the country will be talking about the bold commitment Illinois is making to its children for years to come,” said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now.  “As the program scales up and more children gain access, we expect that other states will follow Illinois’ lead.”
The report notes that in Illinois, bipartisan legislative support together with strong gubernatorial leadership made a crucial difference.  In Massachusetts, the only other state to pass a preschool for all initiative this year, legislation was vetoed by an unsupportive governor.  The report also singled out Illinois’ commitment to it youngest learners through its Birth-to-Three set-aside, which dedicates 11 cents of every early childhood dollar to programs that support at risk infants and toddlers. 
The Governor’s Preschool for All program will allow every community to offer high-quality preschool in a variety of settings, including public and private schools, child care centers, and licensed family child care homes, private preschools, park districts, faith-based organizations, and other community-based agencies. The program requires that preschools be staffed by experienced teachers who hold bachelor’s degrees and specialized training in early education, and provide at least two and a half hours per day of high-quality programming designed to foster all of the skills -- social, emotional, physical, and cognitive -- that all young children need to achieve success in school and later in life. 
Despite unprecedented budget deficits inherited from the Ryan administration, Gov. Blagojevich has made early childhood education a top priority.  This past spring Pre-K Now called Gov. Blagojevich “the nation’s premier pre-K champion.” In addition, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has consistently ranked Illinois as one of the top states for program quality.  Illinois has received praise for its teacher training, as one of the only states to require certification for its early childhood teachers.
Pre-K Now collaborates with advocates and policymakers to lead a movement for high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds and works to raise public awareness about the need for high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children. The organization’s vision is a nation in which every child enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. In Illinois, Pre-K Now partners with Action for Children, Ounce of Prevention Fund and Voices for Illinois Children, which led statewide efforts to build public support for Preschool for All.


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