Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that the state will continue to expand early childhood education programs, but there is still some concern about what the funding formula means for smaller preschool programs in the state.
On Wednesday, Pritzker unveiled another portion of the extensive plan, which would allow 500 more children from at-risk families to qualify for home visits, designed to provide coaching and support for parents.
These visits start when the mother is pregnant, and continue through the first years of life for the children.
“Ninety percent of kids’ brain development happens long before they start kindergarten,” Pritzker said.
The $60 million in new funding comes from both state and federal sources, allowing more families to qualify for support. The funding will help in raising staff salaries and expanding training for caregivers.
“Our teachers are properly trained,” said Karen Ross-Williams of the Christopher House, a group of schools in Chicago that helps children in low-income families get access to quality educational resources. “That’s the other key piece. We don’t just throw them in and say ‘swim.’”
Still, the growth of the program hasn’t been without its rocky moments. Longstanding community-based organizations have lost funding due to unexplained or unclear reasons, and now some early childhood providers are afraid to criticize the city out of fear of losing more dollars.
That uncertainty has helped make the topic a hot-button issue in campaigns throughout the state, and Pritzker urged a measure of patience as preschool availability continues to expand.
“It’s something that we can get to,” Pritzker said of universal pre-K. “It’s something that we’ll have to work toward over the next five years, but we have the path to do it.”