Obama's push for universal preschool relieves childhood education advocates

February 14, 2013

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Local advocates for early childhood education said they support President Obama’s push for universal preschool.

Obama called for universal pre-K education across the nation during his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, and already visited a school in Georgia to promote the idea.

“Today, fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool,” the president said during his annual address.  “And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.”  

From 1998 up until 2009, Illinois was a leader in expanding access to preschool, but that has changed in the last couple of years.

According to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children, from 2009 to 2012, the number of slots for state-funded preschool programs declined by 2 percent in Chicago, 15 percent in suburban Cook County, 17 percent in the collar counties, and 16 percent in the rest of the state.

Given the decrease, Executive Director Robin Steans said any help the government can provide is welcome.  

 “It is a very tough financial climate here in Illinois, and the fact that there have been significant cuts means it’s just harder and harder to make the slots available for Illinois that everybody would like to see,” Steans said.

Illinois Assistant Budget Director Abdon Pallasch said the state is expecting to spend $400 million less on education next fiscal year. He said that’s mainly due to the state’s pension problem.