Kids as political pawns

Editorial - March 2006

‘I’m asking you to embrace a broader vision—a vision that all children ought to have access to health care and all children ought to have access to preschool." Those words were the centerpiece of Gov. Blagojevich’s February budget address.

It’s hard to argue with them. Unless, of course, you happen to covet his job. Certainly those who do—his Democratic primary opponent Edwin Eisendrath and the Republican contenders, Judy Baar Topinka and Ron Gidwitz—were quick to point out the flaws in his plan to offer preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old in Illinois.

Chief among them: His questionable approach to paying the $45 million in each of the next three years required to make preschool a possibility for all children in this state. It’s nothing but politics, his opponents say, just another step in his plan to raise his national profile in advance of a future run for the presidency.

Why else, they ask, would the governor push to make Illinois the first state to offer universal preschool for 3-year-olds and one of only four states to offer the same to 4-year-olds? They are particularly suspect after the governor’s political shenanigans last year to launch a program to offer affordable health insurance to every child in Illinois.

Our answer is: Who cares why he’s doing it? We support it—and we think you should too.

The bottom line here is that all children should be able to attend preschool if their parents want to send them. (And, it is important to note, the governor’s plan is voluntary. It would not require parents to send their kids to preschool.) Everything we know says that the sooner we get kids to school, especially at risk kids, the better they will do in school later. Possibly, they will even have a better chance of staying out of jail and making a better living by age 40. If this is the payoff for political opportunism, give us more.

The details of this program are important. We need a plan that ensures these preschoolers have classrooms, qualified teachers and schools that can continue to support them with adequate resources. And we need to know how the state will pay for this, particularly when the state continues to fall far short of adequately funding K-12 public education.

The governor’s unreasonable commitment not to raise income or sales taxes to create a reliable source of funding for education means he has to pay for this the way he has paid for so many other programs: By raiding other state funds and further mortgaging the state’s future. We don’t like his approach, which will require our children and grandchildren to pay our bills in the future. At least this time they’ll be paying for a program that actually benefits them now.

We love that the governor is putting kids first. But we do think his plan needs to be tweaked.

One of our favorite parts of his health-care-for-all-kids program was its sliding scale approach. All families would be eligible, but those who could afford it were expected to help pay the price. There is no reason that same approach shouldn’t be applied to preschool. Everyone should be eligible, but those who can pay something, should.

Ultimately, we don’t care why Blagojevich is doing this, but we care deeply that he gets it done. So, call your legislators and tell them early education is important to you.

Chicago Parent sends a hearty and heartfelt congratulations to our Kid Culture columnist Fred Koch, one of 30 Chicago-area finalists for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching. Fred was chosen from a field of 850 pre-kindergarten through third grade applicants. The awards selection committee will conduct interviews and classroom visits and announce the 10 Golden Apple winners in mid-March.

Golden Apple is a gold standard for teaching excellence and Fred, who teaches music to the kids at Cherokee Elementary School in Lake Forest, deserves the highest recognition for his wonderful teaching—both in the classroom and through the pages of Chicago Parent.

Kids Eat Chicago

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