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Illinois lawmakers propose education grant aimed at cutting ‘preschool-to-prison’ pipeline

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A bipartisan group of state lawmakers want to make sure that the stateline’s youngest stay out of a life of crime, saying spending more on education now will save Illinois money down the road.

Currently, it costs about $26,000 to house an inmate for a year, but onlyl $3,000 to fund a preschool-aged child.

The hope is to cut the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline and set kids up for a future success.

“We forget that investing in the long run can really pay dividends down the road,” said Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford). “That’s especially true with early childhood programs.”

Local elected officials, law enforcement, and the Rockford Public School District all want Governor J.B. Pritzker to keep funding early childhood education.

“Three and four year olds, who are exposed to early childhood education, have improved school performances as well as [that] they are less likely to enter the criminal arena when they reach early adulthood,” said Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross.

Pritzker has proposed spending an additional $100 million by 2020 to improve early education across the state, and lawmakers agree, pointing to research that shows that good preschools may be a way to reduce crime later on in a student’s life.

Rep. Maurice West II (D-Rockford) said, “This is definitely an investment, and one of the best investments that we could make, not just for our kids, but for our state; an investment that will see a return on it for years to come.”

Stadelman added, “The money we invest in children at this age will find better academic outcomes, better graduation rates, and making sure they stay on the right path in life.”

Rep. John Cabello (R-Rockford) said, “We realize this is part of the overall redo of the criminal justice system. To be able to keep kids out of the criminal justice system, early childhood education is one of the most important things we can do.”

Over half of preschool-age children in Winnebago County are not signed up for pre-k classes and officials say that can put them behind when they go to kindergarten.

“If you look at what makes a kid successful when entering kindergarten, it’s that they have self-regulation,” said Kim Nelson, Executive Director for Early Childhood at Rockford Public Schools. “So that, if a friend takes a toy, I’m not going to haul off and hit them. I know how to problem-solve. I know how to communicate. I know how to share.”

Most of the money from the proposed grant would go towards creating more classrooms.

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