Become a Catalyst member

Join the conversation

We encourage our readers to leave comments and engage in dialogue about our stories. But before you do, please check out our "rules of the road."

Subscribe to catalyst-chicago.org by e-mail

catalyst-chicago.org feeds

Current Issue

Drugs in schools

Most drug violations in CPS involve an ounce or less of marijuana. Schools are quick to call police, yet rarely have the resources to offer education, counseling or other non-punitive help to students.

Slow payments hurt universal preschool

Springfield’s inability to pay its bills on time is slowing the expansion of Illinois’ universal preschool programs. 

“Outside of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, people are not getting paid,” says Sessy Nyman, vice president of public policy and government relations for the advocacy group Illinois Action for Children. 

Chicago’s programs are unaffected because 37 percent of the Early Childhood Block Grant for 0-5 programs goes to CPS and is administered through a separate grant process.

However, for current Preschool for All providers in other parts of the state, that means not being able to pay teachers, a significant chunk of their budgets. For new programs that are trying to get up and running, the effect is just as harmful, Nyman says.

Springfield’s inability to pay its bills on time is slowing the expansion of Illinois’ universal preschool programs. 

“Outside of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, people are not getting paid,” says Sessy Nyman, vice president of public policy and government relations for the advocacy group Illinois Action for Children. 

Chicago’s programs are unaffected because 37 percent of the Early Childhood Block Grant for 0-5 programs goes to CPS and is administered through a separate grant process.

However, for current Preschool for All providers in other parts of the state, that means not being able to pay teachers, a significant chunk of their budgets. For new programs that are trying to get up and running, the effect is just as harmful, Nyman says.

“With anything new, there are start-up costs,” she explains, noting that preschool centers need funds upfront to pay for educational materials, new furniture and teachers who are certified in early childhood education.

Michelle’s Place Child Care Center in downstate Cahokia is an example. Last year, the center, whose small charges are overwhelmingly from low-income families, applied for and received funding to open one Preschool for All classroom. The classroom was slated to open last August, but funding didn’t come through until December, which delayed opening until January.

“You can’t do it without the dollars,” says owner Michelle Wright, who has operated a child care center for the last four years and currently cares for 76 children. “We didn’t have the money to get a [certified] teacher.  We could not buy new equipment, so we cleaned and repaired what we had. It was stressful and it was rough, but I just used what I had until I got the funding.”

State education officials are aware of the problem.

“We know that the some programs are suffering because they are not being paid in a timely manner,” says Kay Henderson, who oversees Illinois’ early childhood education programs. “There are rumors that some programs have closed, but no program that I am funding has closed down.”

However, one preschool program in downstate O’Fallon was shuttered as a result of the state’s cash-flow problems. Our World Childcare and Adult Day Services was a multigenerational program that was almost 100 percent dependent on state funding.

“That center’s funding was primarily for its adult day care center,” explains Walter Denton, a city administrator for O’Fallon. “When the state was delinquent in its payments, the center could not make its payroll and had to close.”

In a statement released last month, state Comptroller Dan Hynes said Illinois had a $6 billion backlog of outstanding bills, including a $1.4 billion short-term loan that had to be repaid by the end of June. He also voiced his support for legislative proposals that would protect vendors when the state is delinquent in paying bills.

Meanwhile, the recession’s negative impact on efforts to expand state-funded preschools has made national news. Nine states have announced cuts to state pre-kindergarten programs, according to Steven Barnett, a co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. And two others are considering cutbacks.

Congress has increased federal funding for preschool education as a part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package. Henderson expects Illinois will get an extra $12.5 million increase in its Early Childhood Block Grant, bringing the total to $393 million. Most of the money is earmarked for Preschool for All and 0-5 programs.

Posted by: Debra Williams

Add A Comment

Add your comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.