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Chicago community groups protest child care cuts

At a demonstration against child care cuts in Pilsen Tuesday, there were more kids than adults. The kids yelled “we need childcare” and tried to stay still while adults representing Chicago community groups spoke out in favor of restoring Illinois’ early childhood programs to previous funding levels.

The state of Illinois cut $25 million from early childhood education grants in FY2013, and also raised co-pays, and lowered eligibility requirements for subsidized child care services.

“I went from paying around $100 a month, to paying now $200 a month,” said Lorraine Bahena, who has a 4-year-old in a nearby preschool. “I actually have the means to pay, thank god, but if not for that I would have had to have pulled my daughter out.”

Another parent, Maria Zuno, said she’s taken a pay cut so that her kids remain eligible.

“I can’t make too much money because then they get kicked out,” Zuno said. “And I can’t make too little because then I can’t make ends meet.”

Organizers representing nine community groups in Chicago, mostly childcare and early education providers, said 100 people will travel to Springfield to attend a special hearing of the House Appropriations Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education Wednesday. That committee is responsible for the $25 million in cuts to Early Childhood Block Grants meant to support Illinois preschool programs. That budget has been slashed by $80 million over four years.

Committee Chairman Rep. Will Davis (D-30), who set up the hearing with advocates, nonetheless says it will be a challenge to keep next year’s Block Grant funding at this year’s levels.

“It’s not a matter of opposition,” he said. “It’s just resources. That committee will have to make some very tough decisions as to how they spend those resources.”

Since 2009, the number of kids in Illinois’ early childhood programs has dropped by an estimated 22,000 due to budget cuts.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s proposed budget for 2014 wouldn’t restore early childhood funding to previous levels, but it would hold the line on early childhood programs.

“The budget cuts are largely driven by the pension problems,” said Illinois Assistant Budget Director Abdon Pallasch. “It’s a real fight to maintain funding for these programs and that’s what the governor’s office is trying to do.”

Lewis Wallace is a Pritzker Journalism Fellow at WBEZ. Follow him @lewispants

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