Perspective: Education Funding Discussion Turns to Early Childhood

While the Governor’s Education Funding Commission has been focused on elementary and secondary schools, a bipartisan group of legislators think early childhood deserves more attention.  Five legislators who sit on the commission, shared their thoughts at a forum with students at the Erikson Institute, a Chicago based graduate school in child development.

“Research into education funding concludes that investment in early childhood development—birth to age 4yields the greatest return on the dollar,” said State Representative Bob Pritchard (R-Sycamore), one of the legislative panelists.  “The legislature has increased funding for early childhood programs in the past two years, but additional new money will be very difficult to find in the next few years.”

Instead, the legislators encouraged the various non-profit organizations and state agencies working with children to better coordinate efforts and share resources.  Pritchard pointed out funding sources and state agencies often operate in silos leading to duplication of services, gaps in service and confusion for families.  This is a major source of frustration for both advocates and legislators he said.

Earlier this year Governor Rauner created the Cabinet on Children and Youth to bring together agencies that deal with children in any capacity.  The intent is to open communication, break down barriers, discuss coordination of efforts and assure that children receive the well-rounded support they need for a bright future.  

Pritchard shared that the early child centers in his region are working together through an organization named Community Coordinated Child Care (4-C) to increase parenting skills, improve services for children and maximize grant and federal funding.  Other areas of the state are not as fortunate and many areas lack support for families and quality childcare centers he added.  

The legislators agreed that childcare advocates can help educate legislators who may not understand the value of early child development and its impact on a child’s ability to learn later in school.  Advocates can also help set state spending priorities and policies supporting a child’s early learning.

The other legislative members on the panel included Senators Kim Lightford (D-Westchester) and Karen McConnaughay (R-West Dundee), and Representatives Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) and Will Davis (D-East Hazel Crest).