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      Possible cuts to Illinois preschool programs

      The future of all Pre-K programs in Illinois are up in the air these days, which could affect all of the programs in our area. Lawmakers are looking at possible cuts to the Early Childhood Block Grant to help trim the state budget. Those grant dollars help at-risk children attend preschool.

      We found out what this means for teachers and parents in Quincy.

      Quincy mother Jessica Schoonover says preschool is vital to her daughter's education.

      "She wouldn't be where's she's at today if she didn't have it. She's really ahead of everyone, they say," said Schoonover.

      Due to state budget cuts, fewer children may get to take advantage of the program.

      The Quincy Pre-K program is no stranger to cuts. A few years ago, 360 children were enrolled. Over the years, budget cuts have chopped that number in half. Cuts are expected again this year, and fewer dollars have prompted the state's Department of Education to require all pre-K programs to re-apply for funding. In a nutshell, that means a question mark for the future of programs like Quincy's until the Governor signs the budget this summer.

      That uncertainty is keeping school districts like Quincy in limbo. Right now they're looking at two options -- either the reduction of pre-k programs in Quincy or the complete elimination of it. Right now they're getting ready for next year by reducing staff and moving tenured teachers to other schools in the district.

      Early Childhood Director Julie Schuckman says all the questions make the upcoming school year difficult to plan for.

      "It leaves everyone up in the air, but we are trying to build on that hope," said Schuckman.

      With the hope that there will be a program in the coming year, educators are encouraging parents to bring their children in for pre-K screenings and get on a waiting list for enrollment. Meanwhile some parents are unsure as to whether to look for another preschool, while others know they can't afford one. Either way Schuckman and parents say the importance of these early learning years is too important to ignore.

      "50 percent of the achievement gap happens for children on the first day of school.Strong early childhood programs like Pre-K reduce that gap so children aren't starting behind," said Schuckman.

      And the hope is that funding comes through so no one has to begin their school career with a disadvantage.

      The district's head start program is not affected by cuts at the state level.

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