Illinois and Florida are struggling to create free pre-kindergarten programs for needy students, report the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald. Illinois is trying to create a “Rolls Royce” program, reports the Tribune. But can the state afford it?
Officials estimate that the $45 million allocated for the first year of the program will serve 10,000 new children, with priority going to those labeled at risk of academic failure. But if all goes as planned-and critics are quick to cite a host of “ifs”-the program will be extended to many of the state’s working families in subsequent years. About 85,000 children will be in the state program in the fall, and if funding increases each year according to the legislative plan, 10,000 more children will be added in each of the following two years.
. . . Unlike Florida, which is implementing pre-kindergarten on the cheap, or California, whose voters last month rejected universal preschool, the Illinois plan strives to be, if not the Rolls-Royce of programs, certainly a Camry. It requires that teachers have college degrees and sets forth a well-crafted curriculum that focuses on how children develop emotionally and socially, as well as whether they’re learning to read and count.
Other states will be watching closely to see if the Florida or Illinois model provides the promised benefits at a sustainable cost. Starting with disadvantaged children, the most likely to benefit from pre-kindergarten, is a smart strategy.