Illinois first to expand preschool to 3-year-olds

CHICAGO—Lawmakers have passed legislation to make Illinois the first state in the nation with the goal of offering voluntary, high-quality preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds.

Young children who are at risk of school failure are the first priority as Preschool for All expansion begins this fall, followed by middle-income children and, finally, all other children whose parents want them to participate.

The fiscal year 2007 state budget includes $45 million in new funding for early childhood education, for total spending of $318 million.

Preschool for All also continues to set aside 11 percent of early childhood funding for birth-to-3 programs targeting at-risk families. High-quality early learning helps children succeed in school and in life, and benefits the entire state by strengthening communities and the future workforce.

Preschool for All passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support—a unanimous vote of 105-0 in the House and a 47-10-1 vote in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1497, House Floor Amendment 3, states that funding “shall be distributed to achieve a goal of ‘Preschool for All Children’ for the benefit of all children whose families choose to participate in the program.”

Priority is given to serving all at-risk children before expanding to children whose families make less than four times the federal poverty level, or $80,000 for a family of four. Many of these middle-income families earn too much to qualify for state-funded programs, but too little to afford the cost of high-quality private programs. Other children will be eligible once the first groups have been served.

Illinois is recognized as a national leader in the preschool movement for funding increases supported by the governor and legislature during difficult budget times. Three other states—Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma—provide preschool to all 4-year-olds, but Illinois is the first, and only, state whose policy includes offering voluntary access to all 3-year-olds.

Preschool for All will provide preschool in a variety of settings, including child care centers, licensed family child care homes, community-based organizations and schools. Preschools will be staffed by experienced teachers with bachelor’s degrees and early education training, and provide at least two-and-a-half hours a day of programming that builds children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. Preschool for All is based on the recommendations of the Illinois Early Learning Council.

Preschool for All aims to ensure that, when fully implemented, 190,000 children in Illinois have access to voluntary, high-quality preschool. This estimate includes children who are already served in existing state PreKindergarten, Head Start and PreK Special Education programs.

Preschool for All builds upon the $90 million increase for early childhood education over the past three years that was approved by the governor and legislature. Since that time, an additional 25,000 young children at risk of school failure have access to preschool.

In his February Budget Address, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich called for increased funding totaling $135 million over the next three years to expand access and improve quality even more.

This FY07 funding increase will help preschool programs meet higher standards, increase the availability of certified teachers and ensure accountability through monitoring, technical assistance and program evaluation.

The Early Learning Illinois campaign praised the governor and legislators for their commitment to improving the lives of young children and their families. Early Learning Illinois is a statewide advocacy and public awareness campaign led by Action for Children, Ounce of Prevention Fund and Voices for Illinois Children, with support from Chicago Metropolis 2020, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois and more than 125 local, regional and statewide organizations.

Preschool for All takes effect July 1 and will be administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. A request for proposals will be released shortly so programs can apply for expansion funding that will be available next fall.

For more information, visit

From tha May 24-30, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!