Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Advocates for children ask
for budget cuts to be restored

By Meredith Colias

Advocates for early childhood education, bilingual education and homeless student assistance programs appealed to Illinois lawmakers today to restore some funding cut in previous years.

Early childhood education advocates asked for the biggest restoration of funds, $25 million to an early childhood block grant. Under Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014, early childhood education would be spared further cuts like those enacted in prior years, and current funding levels would be continued.

Citing the importance of early childhood education, Morgan County Sheriff Randy Duvendack said the state was not providing adequate funding. Duvendack said early childhood education in schools was necessary for the development of “critical, early social skills” for young, disadvantaged children to discourage criminal activity later in life. He said cuts to state funding meant that about 22,000 children were dropped from state-supported preschool programs since 2009.

Marvin Torres of the Latino Policy Forum said as the state’s childhood poverty rate increases, funding for early childhood education is needed to bridge gaps for disadvantaged children in kindergarten who start school as much as six months academically behind their peers. Nancy Radner, director of policy for the nonprofit Ounce of Prevention program, told lawmakers that early childhood education was “an investment that pays off.” Radner said preparing students to do better in school sooner prevents unnecessary placements later in special education. It also reduces the number of students who have to repeat grades, and it lessens teacher turnover. Citing reduced funding in recent years, she said, “We would like to see some of the ground regained.”

Torres also testified in support of funding for bilingual education programs. He estimated 304 schools in 88 counties across the state had children who do not speak English as their primary language. In 2012, Torres estimated that the number of students in the state for whom English is a second language grew from 146,000 in 2004 to about 200,000 in 2012, while funding from state state government has remained flat since 2011.

Patricia Nix-Hodes of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless asked for $3 million that is not included in Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget to provide support for homeless students to remain in school. She said the homeless student population is also growing, and that money to fund staff is needed to provide services to ensure that students are able to attend school on a regular basis.


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