Latino parents to Springfield legislators: ‘We’re counting on steady state funding’

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsLawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsAs Chicago-based early education providers grapple with a tough mix of Illinois budget woes, pending school closures, the sequestration of federal funds, and a recent realignment of city preschool funding, more than 45 local Latino parents will travel to Springfield on April 30, calling on legislators to protect and restore an increasingly vital source of revenue: state dollars earmarked for Illinois’ youngest learners. As Latinos now represent a quarter of Illinois children under the age of 5, access to quality early childhood education (ECE) and child care are especially critical in Latino communities.

During his March budget address, Governor Pat Quinn proposed maintenance of state funding for the Early Childhood Block Grant, which funds Preschool for All and home-visiting programs across the state. While the recommendation underscores the Governor’s commitment to early education, the proposed allocation remains nearly $80 million below Fiscal Year 2009 levels and the state is serving 22,000 fewer at-risk children than it was just a few years ago.

The Governor’s budget proposal also included a $10.3 million increase in funds for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which allows low-income parents to access high-quality care for their children while they work or pursue additional education. But the modest proposal is not enough to lower parent co-payments or elevate eligibility for the program back to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, as was the case in past years. As a result, many working parents remain ineligible for child care assistance and those who quality have to pay more to access services, forcing many parents to make tough decisions between continuing to work outside of their homes or caring for their children.

The benefits of early education and child care are well documented: Research shows that academically-oriented child care and early education lay solid cognitive foundations for young learners, which translate into reduced remedial education, criminal justice, and health-related costs down the road. The University of Chicago’s Noble Laureate Dr. James Heckman suggests that each dollar invested in such programs yields a $7 return. What’s more, Illinois CCAP allows nearly 80,000 families to work outside the home, an important economic consideration in trying fiscal times.

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