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Quinn's Early Ed. Initiatives Will Come with a Price Tag

In what he calls his "Birth to Five" initiative, Gov. Pat Quinn's plan calls for more prenatal care, more early education opportunities, and more parental involvement for children from newborns to 5-year-olds.

But with state coffers low, causing hundreds of millions of dollars to be slashed in education funding, many skeptics wonder where the money will come from to float such an initiative.

"Study after study has shown that high-quality early childhood education provides the best return of any public investment we can make," Quinn said in his speech

Quinn said he wants to connect more expectant mothers with prenatal care, and expand the reach of early education programs, including home visits to help parents. There does appear to be a need for these programs.

There are women in Springfield, for example, who do not get enough prenatal care.

"We do see them on a time to time basis and certainly they tend to suffer from multiple issues that they really have no idea about until they come in and get into the services and see us later on and then finally start the prenatal care," said Dr. Leslie Dignan-Moore, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Springfield Clinic's Women's Health Center.

At Springfield's early learning center, there are 600 spots in the preschool and around 100 in the home visit program for newborns to 3-year-olds. Meanwhile, more than 1,200 children are enrolled in kindergarten each year in Springfield Public Schools.

The current wait list to get into the programs is 154 students long.

"The fact that we have a waitlist, in my opinion, demonstrates that we absolutely have a need for it in our community," said Kathy Davis, District 186's Pre-K Coordinator.

The governor's spokesman said the prenatal care initiative is more about connecting women with existing programs, but Quinn is also talking about building more early education centers and expanding the age range for home visits.

He's talking investments, and investments take money.

"What will this cost to the citizens of Illinois?" asked Republican Rep. Rich Brauer in a phone interview. "In a time when we can't pay our bills, to be starting a new programs, to be expanding new programs just isn't responsible"

The cost is the big question, but taxpayers and lawmakers alike won't know for sure until Quinn delivers his budget address in February.

The State Board of Education supports Quinn's plan. It had a $300.1 million budget for early education this year, and it's asking for an additional $25 million this time around.

But in what's expected to be a lean budget year, it's anyone's guess what they'll end up with.

There is concern among many lawmakers about Quinn's plans to fund his proposed programs, including "Birth to Five." The temporary income tax hike is scheduled to begin to expire in January - halfway through the state's fiscal year. The governor hasn't addressed how he would deal with that shortfall in revenue.