Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
It is universally acknowledged that preschool plays a critical role in the educational and social development of children. Studies have shown that those who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than 40 percent less likely to be placed in a special education program or to be arrested as a juvenile. Yet not one state in the union currently offers universal pre-k.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic wants to change this. This past Wednesday, Blagojevich http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/national/13illinois.html?_r=1&oref=slogin ">proposed in his new state budget a provision that would grant all three and four year-olds access to preschool, regardless of income. While Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida currently offer pre-k to four year-olds, Illinois would become the first state to provide genuinely universal preschool in the country's history.
"This isn't just an Illinois story, it's a national story," says Libby Doggett, Executive Director of Pre-K Now. "This week's announcement was wonderful for the children of Illinois but equally wonderful for the children across this country…Many many families will enjoy the benefits of this far-sighted and far-reaching vision."
As Nathan Newman notes, while Blagojevich may be facing investigations for pay-to-play politics, "Illinois has been quietly emerging as a national font of progressive ideas and legislation"-such as raising the minimum wage, protecting gay rights and stengthening labor laws.
Yet with budget concerns wracking Illinois, Doggett predicts that Blagojevich's pre-k proposal will face some stiff opposition. "It will be a fight. Children don't have a lobbyist, so it's difficult to see progress in this area," says Doggett. "But Governor Blagojevich, without doubt, is the biggest children's champion we have."
To learn how you can be a part of the movement for universal preschool not only in Illinois, but nationally, click http://www.preknow.org/resource/prekresources/index.cfm ">here.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.