Preschool For All?

There's a heaping big press release from the Illinois early childhood mafia declaring the budget a tremendous success.  At least one of the dailies said that Preschool For All wasn't fully funded, but from the look of it there's a lot of new money there for ECE.  Just where it's coming from, nobody knows.

From the Ounce:

Young children win big in FY07 budget

Preschool for All biggest victory in a successful year

Last night, the Illinois General Assembly
approved a $56 billion state budget that contains a string of victories
for young children, spearheaded by $45 million expansion of the Early
Childhood Block Grant to launch the nation's first Preschool for All
initiative that serves three- and four-year-olds. Preschool for All is
built on the platform of the Early Childhood Block Grant program, which
sets aside 11 cents of every preschool dollar for infants and toddlers
who face the greatest challenges.

Other major developments include passage of SB 2202, which will
lower barriers to teacher certification faced by working practitioners;
a $34 million increase in child care reimbursement rates; $5 million
for children's mental health initiatives; a $3 million increase for the
Early Intervention program; and a three percent cost-of-living
adjustment for the Healthy Families, Parents Too Soon and other
children's programs.

Governor Blagojevich's Preschool for All initiative has put Illinois
in the national spotlight since the governor announced his plans in
February. Strong bipartisan support for early childhood was
demonstrated by the nearly unanimous vote for the substantive Preschool
for All legislation. The legislation passed the House unanimously, and
the Senate approved it by a vote of 47 to 10 with one abstention.

The legislation amends the school code to establish "Preschool for
All Children" as the goal of the PreK program, and clearly states that
programs that primarily serve at-risk children will be the first
priority in the build up. Second priority will be given to children
from families that make less than four times the federal poverty
guidelines ($80,000 for a family of four), followed by all remaining
children. Preschool for All also requires that the Illinois State Board
of Education report annually on what percentage of funding was
allocated to each group of children.

"Today, Illinois has established as a matter of substantive policy
that all children deserve a quality early learning experience," said
Harriet Meyer, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund and co-chair
of the Illinois Early Learning Council. "Preschool for All would not
have passed if not for the visionary leadership of Governor
Blagojevich, the broad support in the legislature and the activism of
hundreds of people from all parts of the state."

When fully implemented, Preschool for All will ensure that 190,000
children in Illinois have access to preschool. This estimate includes
children already served in existing state PreK, Head Start and PreK
Special Education programs. Over the next three years, funding will be
used to serve 32,000 additional three- and four-year-olds. Additional
funds will be requested in 2010 and 2011 to extend preschool to
remaining children whose parents want them to participate.

The plan also includes several quality and accountability
enhancements recommended by the Illinois Early Learning Council to
increase the supply of certified preschool teachers, expand teacher
training and establish evaluation, monitoring and technical assistance
on Preschool for All implementation issues.
Also, thousands more at-risk infants and toddlers and their families
will receive child development services.

Preschool for All is not the only victory. Here is a roundup of how the Ounce of Prevention Fund's policy agenda fared:

Healthy Families & Parents Too Soon: 3% Cost-of-Living Adjustment
Healthy
Families (HF) and Parents Too Soon (PTS), a statewide network of
community-based, voluntary home visiting programs for at-risk families,
along with other programs in the Illinois Department of Human Services
Division of Community Health and Prevention and the Department of
Children and Family Services received a 3% cost-of-living adjustment.
HF and PTS have not received a cost-of-living adjustment in the last
five years, and over this time it has become more expensive for
programs to provide services due to increased costs of necessities such
as utility and health insurance expenses. This increase will allow HF
and PTS programs to maintain services which demonstrate a proven record
of reducing child abuse, improving healthy outcomes and promoting early
learning among Illinois' most at-risk children and families.

Child care rates:  Up $34 million
The
rate increase will go to update reimbursement rates for child care
providers across the state. Child care is a cornerstone of Illinois'
early care and education system and a central component of Preschool
for All. The child care reimbursement rate is key to providing access
to low income families and maintaining high quality programs.

Lower Barriers to Student Teaching: SB 2202 Passed on May 3, 2006
Senate Bill 2202, sponsored by Senator Miguel del Valle, was
unanimously passed by both houses on May 3. It will now go to Governor
Blagojevich to be signed into law. This legislation makes it easier for
teacher aides and other early childhood practitioners to pursue teacher
certification while juggling job and family responsibilities. SB 2202
clarifies the law to allow working early childhood practitioners to
continue to be paid and receive credit for student teaching at their
place of employment, provided that their student teaching experience
meets the requirements of their teacher preparation program. SB 2202
will also allow students to complete the student teaching portion of
their practical experience in any of the preschool (ages 3-5) or K-3
grades covered by the Type 04 early childhood education certificate.

Children's mental health: Up $5 million
A $2 million increase in the Illinois Department of Human Services
Division of Mental Health budget will expand mental health services for
children ages birth to 18, and represents an important investment
toward creating a comprehensive, coordinated children's mental health
system comprised of prevention, early intervention, and treatment.
Another $3 million will go to the Illinois State Board of Education to
bolster school-based supports for children's mental health.

Early Intervention: Up $3 million
The Early Intervention (EI) program, a federal entitlement, will
receive an additional $3 million in funding to cover the cost of
delivering services to growing numbers of eligible infants and toddlers
who are being identified earlier than in the past as having
developmental delays and disabilities. Over the past few years, infant
and toddler programs in Illinois have significantly expanded and
improved the screening and referral system to identify children in need
of EI services, necessitating this increase. The EI program in Illinois
provides timely and appropriate services for children from birth to age
three with developmental disabilities, delays and children at risk of
delay. These services include physical, occupational, and speech
therapies; vision and hearing services; social work and counseling
services; and service coordination.

Supporters of young children are urged to contact Governor
Blagojevich and their legislators to thank them for their leadership on
behalf of young children. Click here to find their contact information. For more information, contact Ireta Gasner at (312) 922-3863 x319 or igasner@ounceofprevention.org.

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