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Parents plan to confront legislators over preschool funding Friday

by Ashleigh M. Joplin
Jan 31, 2013

More than 100 furious parents and community members are expected to confront Illinois state representatives Friday in response to $25 million in cuts made to early childhood education programs and new regulations for participant eligibility.

Preschool for All, a state-funded half-day program providing educational instruction for children ages 3 through 5, was slashed by $25 million by the House Revenue Committee for the 2013 fiscal year that begins July 1.

In addition the maximum income eligibility for childcare, which accounts for the other half of the child’s day, was lowered, reducing the number of families who qualify. Those who qualify have also seen an increase in their co-pays.

“Children are missing out on a full day’s worth of instruction with the preschool childcare combo,” said Martin Torres, the senior policy analyst for the Latino Policy Forum, an organization that assists Latino involvement in public decision-making and one of the hearing organizers.

“When childcare is no longer available, then some parents cannot participate in preschool because they cannot take their child out in the middle of the workday. They have to find an alternative full-day provider,” said Torres.

According to Torres, CPS was able to fill the budget gap for the 2013 school year with other resources, but there is no guarantee they can do that in the years to come. Organizers plan to demand those funds be replenished by the state for the following school year.

Six state representatives will attend, including state Rep. William Davis (D-East Hazel Crest), who said things are likely to get worse, not better.

“Under the current circumstances it’s more likely that there will be additional cuts [next school year],” Davis said. “The House Revenue Committee is giving us a more conservative estimate.”

Although he knows there will be many disgruntled parents in attendance, he said he is excited to teach them “making cuts is not arbitrary. If you have less money, you have to make cuts.”

Davis said that after covering expenses for pensions, Medicaid, debt service and other fixed costs, there was $6.4 billion left for all other state-funded services. Education received 39 percent of that funding.

Mario Garcia, the executive director at Onward Neighborhood House, one of the groups arranging the hearing, said, “We need to invest in education. That should be our priority.”

The hearing, which is open to the public, is 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak Road.