Legislative targets

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Looking to the upcoming General Assembly, early childhood advocates in Illinois have set two major goals, winning an increase in funding for the state pre-kindergarten program and winning renewal of a program that has helped stem staff turnover in child care centers. Here are summaries of these proposals:

STATE PRE-K Last year, the Early Childhood Block Grant program, which funds state pre-k, received a $30 million increase that brought preschool services to an additional 8,300 children, according to Lori Schneider, associate director of public policy and advocacy for the Daycare Action Council (whose name will change to Action for Children in March).

About 3,100 of the additional slots are in Chicago, which by law automatically gets 37 percent of Early Childhood Block Grant funding. Advocates are pushing for an additional $30 million statewide this year.

GREAT START Begun in 2000, this program will sunset in July without further state action. Currently funded at $7.1 million a year, the program gives extra salary to low-paid child care workers who meet two requirements:

Their educational levels exceed the minimum requirements set by the Department of Children and Family Services.

They have been at the same site for at least one year.

The bonuses, which are then disbursed every six months, average about $1,500 per year. More than 5,000 child care workers, whose annual pay is about $17,000 to $20,000, have received at least one. An interim evaluation report done for DCFS by the University of Illinois found that the stipends were influential in limiting turnover and promoting further education among child care workers. While full funding would amount to more than $25 million, child care advocates are not pushing for more money this year.