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Blago Wants State-Funded Preschools

By Amy Hart in News on Feb 13, 2006 5:22PM


First Governor Blagojevich irritated his political opponents with his All Kids Insurance program, and now he is back at it with his Preschool for All program, which would allow all three and four year olds in the state to attend state-funded preschools.

Blago estimates Preschool for All will cost $135 million over the next three years and would enroll around 140,000 students. Blago estimates closing corporate tax loopholes and money from Illinois’ special purpose accounts would pay for the bulk of the program.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron Gidwitz called the proposal “another headline-grabbing stunt,” fellow nominee Bill Brady said schools should not be required to spend money on preschool education, and a spokesperson for Jim Oberweis said future Illinois taxpayers should not be “saddled with additional debt.” Both Republican frontrunner Judy Baar Topinka and Blago primary opponent Edwin Eisendrath believe that the program would be nice, but that it is a hollow campaign promise that the state cannot afford.

While Blago's political opponents are upset with the program, early learning experts support the initiative and progressives such as the writers at Talking Points Memo say Preschool for All is just the latest example “of how Illinois has been quietly emerging as a national font of progressive ideas and legislation.”

Is the program a political ploy by Blago? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make good sense. Art Rolnick, Senior Vice President/Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says preschool investments offer a 16% rate of return on the initial investment. Plus law enforcement experts point out that preschool education can prevent teen pregnancy and crime as well as reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. So spending a little more now may result in a stronger Illinois in the future.

As we said with the All Kids program, those criticizing the program need to be careful that they don’t come across as uncaring towards lower income children. Furthermore, the idea of free preschool is a good one, but only if it is implemented fairly and adequately funded.