Pritzker promotes early childhood education initiative; Republicans say it’s not sustainable

(The Center Square) ā€“ Illinois will use $250 million in taxpayer funds for the Smart Start Program, which looks to make early childhood daycare and preschool more accessible for families throughout the state. Some are questioning the program’s sustainability, however.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker traveled Illinois this week to discuss increased taxpayer funding that will be a part of the fiscal year 2024 budget.

Among the programs discussed was the Smart Start Illinois program, which supporters say will eliminate early childhood deserts for 3-and-4-year olds by 2027. The program, in total, will cost the state’s taxpayers $350 million for the programs and new facilities.

The state’s budget failed to get Republican votes in the Illinois General Assembly. Smart Start Illinois was also questioned by House Minority Leader Toni McCombie, R-Savanna, about the state’s ability to afford this program.

McCombie said programs like the Evidence-Based Funding model, which began in 2017, have been underfunded.

“My question is, how is it going to be sustainable? There is nothing worse than starting a new program and having it not be sustainable,” McCombie said. “I have to look at the Evidence-Based Funding model, where schools were supposed to be fully funded after 10 years. The program should be right around the corner to end in 2027. However, in one year, FY2021, we didn’t spend the extra $350 million. Now we’re looking at, that we may never fully fund our schools.”

On Tuesday, Pritzker was in Moline and discussed the Smart Start program and disputed the Republican’s claims of failing to fund past budget programs properly.

“Every time we finish the budget and pass it, Republicans who did not vote for it say, ‘I don’t think we can afford it,'” Pritzker said. “Every year, we have been able to afford it. Every year we have made the investments we have needed to make while also recognizing that we have to balance the budget.”

Pritzker downplayed any future funding issues regarding the program and said Illinois has done a good job fiscally, and people have noticed that.

“I’ll express some disappointment here about the fact that we did not get any Republican votes but recognize that we have been very responsible every year,” Pritzker said. “Independent folks, credit agencies, and others have recognized that.”

The state’s $50.6 billion budget goes into effect on July 1.

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