DIXON – More than 1,000 at-risk children in Lee and Ogle counties don’t have access to preschool programs, an issue that brought a state official and local law enforcement leaders to an education roundtable Wednesday.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, along with Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss and Lee County Sheriff John Simonton, visited Washington Elementary School to talk about the need for state-funded preschool programs and the future crime they could prevent.
Sally Puleo, a state director for the Illinois research and advocacy organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, said there are 1,020 area 3- and 4-year-olds – 479 in Lee and 541 in Ogle counties – from families who can’t afford preschool programs and have fallen through the cracks.
They would qualify to attend state-funded preschools, but there aren’t any slots to put them in.
Karri Brauman, coordinator of Washington’s preschool program, said funding cuts in 2009 caused their pool of spots to shrink from 140 to 80 children, and there’s usually about 20 or 30 children on their waiting list.
“There’s a great need for this, especially for at-risk families, and it’s a great asset for the community,” she said.
Langloss said at-risk children who didn’t attend preschool were five times more likely to have been arrested for drug felonies and twice as likely to have been arrested for violent crimes by age 27, according to a long-range Michigan study that began in 1962.
“This is a major problem that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Programs like this can really set who they are and provide the foundation for their entire life.”
Gov. Rauner is proposing a $50 million increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant that pays for preschool programs in the fiscal year 2018 budget, but that money hinges on an end to the budget impasse that has dragged on for the past 2 years.
Demmer said the importance of increasing early education funding is an issue with growing support from both sides of the aisle.
“I think we’ve been limping along for far too long,” he said. “We have to recognize that we can’t underfund education and expect Illinois to be a successful state.”
Principal Jeff Gould said the program also allows a smoother transition for children going into the K-12 system and for their parents or guardians building a relationship with the school.
“It gives them all of the rudimentary skills to be successful in kindergarten and first grade and future years to come,” he said.
Though Washington’s program covers Dixon well, its services need to be expanded farther out to reach children in need throughout the county, Simonton said.
“We need strategies to stop crime before it happens,” Simonton said. “Preschool programs like the one at Washington Elementary help children today become the law-abiding citizens of tomorrow.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of 3- and 4-year olds in need of preschool: 605*
Students enrolled in state pre-K and Head Start as of 2015: 126
Children facing an unmet need for preschool: 479
Number of 3- and 4-year olds in need of preschool: 830*
Students enrolled in state pre-K and Head Start as of 2015: 289
Children facing an unmet need for preschool: 541
*based on 2013 census figures
– Source: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois