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Researchers find Illinois preschools underfunded

A national study of early childhood education funding finds Illinois lagging behind. A decade ago, the same researchers lauded Illinois for its commitment to early childhood education.

But today, they say the state needs to put its money where its mouth is.

“Illinois was a leader 10 years ago, in preschool, and that status is now in jeopardy,” says Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers. “It’s a leader in the rhetoric, but the state has really failed to put the resources behind it.”  

Barnett is an author on the State Preschool Yearbook, an annual analysis of state-funded preschool programs.

According to the report, Illinois meets nine of 10 quality benchmark standards and serves almost 30 percent of the states 4 year-olds.

But, the report says the state spends just $3,500 per child. Rutgers researchers recommend $4,800 as a benchmark needed to maintain high-quality programs.  

Illinois lawmakers cut more than $50 million from state-funded preschool over the last three years.

This year, Governor Pat Quinn and state education officials are pushing for a $20 million increase in preschool spending, a move Barnett calls “a big step in the right direction.”

But state money isn’t the only resource available next year. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced Illinois is one of five states eligible to participate in a $133 million grant competition directed at early learning. Illinois could be awarded up to $35 million.

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