Today, the majority of middle- and upper-income children receive the benefits of preschool, either through an organized program or by having an at-home parent who is able to provide the intellectual stimulation and confidence-building that prepare a child for later classroom success.
But the majority of lower-income children do not receive these benefits, and thus they begin their years of formal education already behind their more fortunate peers. The result is what is generally referred to as the crisis in American education: dropouts, burnouts and functional illiteracy, the consequences of which have begun to threaten the nation's economic hopes for the 21st century.
America has reached a national consensus that disadvantaged children benefit from Weston MA Preschool opportunities, and that they ought to have these opportunities available to them. Illinois' Children at Risk of Educational Failure program is now beginning its fifth year of operation, providing preschool for 19,000 children in 184 different programs in the last school year. The program has seen its funding increase from $12 million to the current $63 million. However, the program falls short of current need. The estimate of the total number of children who should be receiving preschool services in Illinois is 127,000. The estimate of the total number of children actually receiving preschool through all possible venues is 41,000 (37 percent of children eligible).
That leaves 86,000 children (63 percent of those eligible) with no opportunity to receive preschool services.
In May, Voices for Illinois Children issued its report, "All Our Children Can Make the Grade," which analyzes the current state of Illinois preschools. We at Voices are concerned not only that additional funding ought to be made available but also that the best possible services ought to be provided for the largest possible number of children.
For example, preschool should be made accessible to working parents, meaning it should be made part of existing day-care programs, where possible, or expanded from half-day to full-day schedules. Although state guidelines allow local school districts maximum flexibility in designing their preschool programs, many have not taken a positive role in working with local communities to provide creative solutions to such current barriers. In Chicago, the Board of Education has been slow to respond to the severe school overcrowding in many communities. In such communities, where preschool programs are desperately needed, alternative sites should be found.
The state Board of Education can also play a key role in implementing another Voices' recommendation: providing effective and consistent program evaluation. Voices makes this point very clear: More preschool services are needed, but all preschools must be monitored to ensure effectiveness.
We are now at a critical point of change in state government. Gov.-elect Jim Edgar will have his attention called to a variety of issues, and many demands will be made on state funds. Some issues seem more glamorous than services for young children. Although studies have proven that preschool has long-term effects, it, like other programs that have only long-term payoffs, does not have high political visibility. Special interest groups will demand a more prominent rank in the hierarchy of issues, but young children cannot speak for themselves.
Voices for Illinois Children urges Edgar to commit to the process whereby his administration would address these preschool issues. A post-election, pre-inauguration planning group would lay the groundwork for achieving the best possible provision of preschool services. Edgar also should call on state agencies, service providers, advocacy groups and legislators to respond to his commitment to quality preschool. The number of children left without the benefit of effective preschool demonstrates the urgency with which attention must be given to this issue.
Israel Romero is program associate for Voices for Illinois Children.