“We are here today to urge our state legislators to take a stand for our children to restore the 25 million dollars in early childhood education block grant, which was cut last year. We want legislators to say yes to the future of our children and no to any further cuts,” said Mario Perez, executive director of El Hogar del Niño, which is an organization that provides Latino children a quality early childhood education. “This is a call to action.”
PFA was slashed by 25 million dollars in 2012 and reductions in child care funding have caused the state to increase parent co-payments and reduce program eligibility, making quality child care unaffordable for working families throughout the state. According to the Latino Policy Forum, as Latinos now represent a quarter of Illinois children under the age of five, access to quality preschool child care is critical in these communities.
“We believe that the state is going through a tough time financially, but the balance in the budget cannot be done on the backs of poor children,” said Maricela Garcia, Executive Director of Gads Hill Center. She also said that since 2009, nearly 80 million dollars has been cut from the Early Childhood Education Block Grant, which funds Preschool for All. The cuts have resulted in 22,000 fewer early childhood education program slots.
“We need legislators to help us get the 25 million back that our children need,” said parent Luz Morales, who attended the press conference.
On May 15, 70 parents, teachers, children and administrators went to Springfield to deliver their message to the state representatives. Only few parents managed to deliver their written testimonies to Illinois Representative William Davis, who was the only one that came out as the others were “in session,” explained Sarah McElmurry, communications manager Latino Policy Forum. “But the message was heard,” she said.
“We got there [in Springfield] at 10.35 am. We split up in teams. We were disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to talk to the committee but parents felt engaged in the process. We made the decision to come back [to Chicago],” said Perez who was on the bus with the parents.
Maria Zuno, a mother of four boys, was one of the four parents who handed her written testimony to Representative Davis. In it, she wrote her story about how she felt when her youngest child died and how she needed a lot of help to raise her other boys, which was provided to her by El Hogar del Niño.
“I had my son pass away when I was in Mexico. I couldn’t focus on my kids, I felt very depressed. My help and support came from El Hogar del Niño. I am very grateful for this program,” said Zuno. “I felt like I wanted to share more of the story so he [Representative Davis] can understand it better. He said thanks for being there and will take the time to read the testimonials.”
“It’s about helping each other out,” said 12-year-old Jasmine Marchan who was chosen to represent Ames Middle School in the hearing in Springfield. “We wrote letters to the senators to keep funding early education program because without this program kids will be on streets. With it, kids are more involved in the community – they are having fun and learning a lot of things.”
While parents made the decision to go back to Chicago, a few of the organizations’ leaders stayed in Springfield to meet with the representatives and deliver the message.