New law may provide funding to reinstate preschool program for children ages 3 and younger

Posted: Jun. 12, 2014 8:05 pm Updated: Jul. 3, 2014 9:15 pm

By EDWARD HUSARHerald-Whig Staff Writer

Legislation signed this week by Gov. Pat Quinn could possibly lead to the reinstatement of a Quincy School District program for children ages 3 and younger.

Julie Schuckman, the district's director of early childhood education, said it's too early to say whether Quincy will get any money, but she intends to apply for some of the new state funding to be made available.

Schuckman said the district previously offered a home-based program called Prevention Initiative for about 50 families with children ages 3 and younger. Two full-time instructors would go to the homes of families and work with parents on how to develop children's basic skills.

However, the district was forced to cut the program about five years ago when state funding was slashed.

"This could be an opportunity for us to bring it back, which would be really exciting," she said. "We would use the Parents as Teachers model, and we would work with the parents to give them resources and teach them how to be their child's first teacher."

House Bill 4440, which the governor signed, increases the percentage of Early Childhood Education Block Grant program funds that must be set aside for children ages 3 and younger. The bill raises that percentage from 11 to 14 percent in fiscal year 2015 and to 20 percent by fiscal year 2016. The block grants are distributed by the Illinois State Board of Education. The legislation is effective July 1.

Schuckman said it's too early to say what impact this bill could have on early education opportunities in the Quincy School District.

"We'll have to see how they distribute the money, but we would have a chance, hopefully, to write for some new Prevention Initiative funds and restore those services that we had to cut years ago," she said.

Transitions of Western Illinois currently offers a Prevention Initiative program for a small number of at-risk children, but "there's more families than they can reach," Schuckman said.

Quincy-based Child and Family Connections also has a similar program for children ages 3 and younger with developmental delays.

Schuckman said if Quincy restores its own program, it would focus on serving disadvantaged children from at-risk homes.

"We serve a lot of their older siblings in our 3-through-5 program, so we already have those families identified," Schuckman said. "This would allow us to start working with those families even earlier."