Rank kids No. 1 on state agenda The Democrats take over in Springfield this month, but the new state leaders will face the same old problem: How to do more with less.

As Rod Blagojevich becomes governor, he will have Democrats leading the Illinois House and Senate. This all-Democratic leadership will grapple with a budget deficit projected to exceed $2 billion, a faltering economy and the flagrant spending habits of the outgoing leadership.

As Gov. Blagojevich begins looking for ways to fix this mess, we urge him to remember kids should come first. That is more than a moral imperative. It makes sound budget sense. Economists estimate, for example, that every dollar spent on early childhood education saves $7 in money that needn't be spent on everything from remedial reading to jails. We know the savings are much higher when you include the intangible benefits of producing a healthy, productive citizen who will work, pay taxes and raise his or her own healthy, happy children.

So, as Blagojevich begins to order his priorities for the next four years, we want children to rank No. 1 on that list. We urge him to spend first on programs to ensure children have access to the best education, the highest quality health care and the safest neighborhoods.

That includes:

• Keeping his campaign promises to the teachers' unions to find money to recruit, train and keep the best teachers.

• Finding a way, finally, to shift the burden of paying for schools from property taxes to the state.

• Spending more of the federal dollars Illinois has in reserve for KidCare, the health insurance program for low-income children. The last two years Illinois has spent only $13 million of its annual $130 million. If you don't use the money, you lose it. The state can't afford not to fund this program.

• Ensuring all children live in safe neighborhoods, which requires a coordinated approach between law enforcement, public health officials, violence prevention strategists and schools. Studies show the most dangerous hours for many kids are those immediately after school when children are home alone. Quality after-school programs that keep kids off the streets are a good first step.

Blagojevich has a big job ahead of him. At this moment, he is meeting with advisors, setting budget priorities and repaying political debts. He needs to hear from you. Take a moment to write, call or e-mail the new governor. Tell him kids come first. And contact your state senator and representative as well. There's a new world order in Springfield. It's important they understand their priorities should reflect your priorities as parents.

Contact Blagojevich at 161 N. Clark, 24th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601, or call (312) 236-8899.

To find out who your representatives are and how to contact them, go to www.elections.state.il. us/dls/pages/DLSAddresscrit.asp and plug in your home address.

CTA reconsiders misguided policy Adults caring for small children travel quite heavy. There's the diaper bag, toys, bottles, baby food and other necessary tot accoutrements. It's tough enough to lug all of that around with the help of an easy-to-push stroller. So why would the Chicago Transit Authority institute a policy that makes life tougher?

That wasn't the CTA's stated purpose this fall when it began enforcing rules requiring people to fold up strollers before entering the turnstile at elevated stations. But it certainly was the result of the ill-conceived rule.

Sometime after hearing Chicago Parent was writing an editorial criticizing the policy, the agency announced it was contemplating changing the rule. A "pilot" program would allow parents to keep children strapped into strollers while riding on trains and buses.

We are so glad to hear it. The fold-the-stroller requirement was a disaster waiting to happen. We worry a toddler could slip out of his mother's grasp and clonk his head as the train screeches to a stop. Or worse, run for the door and get a tiny foot caught between the train and the platform.

The CTA still was studying the issue as we went to press. We urge the agency to change this ill-advised rule. Once it does, we urge parents to be responsible riders. Lock the brake on the stroller while the train is in motion. Keep the kids belted in. And don't block the aisle in a way that would inconvenience fellow travelers.

Let's not give the CTA reason to reinstate such a potentially dangerous policy.

Kids Eat Chicago

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