Thursday, April 26, 2012

Law enforcement officials say early education cuts lead to increased costs elsewhere

By Ashley Griffin

As lawmakers look to cut the state budget, law enforcement officials warn that reductions to early childhood programs are false savings because they create a need for more spending in other areas.

A report released Thursday by a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, a non-profit anti-crime organization led by more than 300 law enforcement officials, found that cuts to state preschool programs could cost the state more in the long run, in part because students who do not receive a preschool education are more likely to end up in the back of police car. The report states: “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids estimates that cutting preschool for 176,000 children will cost the Illinois taxpayers $200 million over the children’s lifetime due to increased criminal, educational and social services for at-risk children denied preschool. This future cost of $200 million from denying preschool for the 17,600 children who have been cut is more than three times greater than the $55 million we save now. Even in tight fiscal times, preschool is an excellent investment that must be preserved.”

According to the report, Illinois has over the last three years cut funding for preschool for all by $55 million and denied 17,600 children the chance to attend publicly funded preschool programs. “The data bears out that when children have good quality preschool programs, in the long run it improves their odds of succeeding in life and avoiding the criminal justice system,” said Tyler Edmonds, a state's attorney in Union County. “We want to make clear to our state legislators and our governor that the investment on the front end and in these programs is going to save the state and local governments time and money in the long run.”

Instead of cutting some early childhood education programs, the report recommends that lawmakers reject the proposed $85 million in programmatic cuts for the child care assistance program for working families, support the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 funding levels of $345 million for the Early Childhood Block Grant and provide all families access to early learning programs. “I can’t stand in the shoes of our legislators, and I know that they and the governor have a herculean task of trying to find places where cuts can come from,” said Thomas Gibbons, Madison County state's attorney. “What I can say is that when it comes to kids, kids should be safe. We need to do everything we can to protect them and provide for them and that they [legislators] are going to have to look elsewhere. I know there are going to be tough choices that have to be made, but I think children need to be off the table because we cannot leave our kids behind.”

Gov. Pat Quinn called for more spending on early childhood education programs this year, but he has called for cuts in the past. “I believe in the power of education to create opportunity for everyone in our society. This is why I have maintained our basic investment in education, despite extremely hard times,” Quinn told lawmakers in his budget address. “No state is going to out-educate Illinois. I believe in early childhood education, special education, bilingual education, kindergarten-to-12th-grade education, community college education and university education.”

While lawmakers are still weeks from making final spending decisions, education cuts are a distinct possibility. The House passed a resolution that calls for spending reductions in virtually all areas of government. Rep Will Davis, chair of the House budgeting committee for education, said all areas of spending would be up for consideration. Davis, a Homewood Democrat, urged the House to consider new revenue before cutting spending. When his pleas were shot down, he warned that the proposed cuts his committee will have to produce would be painful. “They’re not going to like what’s going to come out of my committee. It’s not going to be pretty. In my committee, everything will be on the table.”


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