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Our view: Full-day kindergarten a good idea, but state can't afford it

Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

We admire Fred Heid's passion for improving early childhood education in Illinois.

The new chief executive officer of Carpentersville-based District 300 schools, Heid told the Northwest Herald recently that he'd like to see state lawmakers pass a law that would require day-long kindergarten at school districts across Illinois.

"We need to take a stronger stance here, and as a state, to have mandatory full-day kindergarten," Heid told reporter Stephen DiBenedetto.

There's little doubt that our children could benefit from manadatory full-day kindergarten. The increased class time gives younger students more time to develop the academic, social and emotional skills they'll need in first grade and beyond. Studies have shown that students in full-day kindergarten develop stronger reading and math skills that part-time students.

That said, Illinois currently is in no position to mandate anything that increases costs, for itself, or for any other taxing bodies.

The General Assembly recently approved a sham of a budget that relies more on gimmicks than sound accounting practices. Among other things, the fiscal 2015 budget doesn’t reduce the state’s record spending; further relies on delaying paying the state’s bills; borrows money from special funds to pay for operational expenses; and counts on inflated future revenue projections that may never materialize.

Add to that last week's ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court that seems to indicate that a 2013 pension reform package is dead, and we're looking at a warehouse full of red ink.

It would be nice if our state government was responsible enough to live within its means. It would be nice if our elected state officials didn't continue to push off tough decisions until next year, or after the next election.

Because that's not the case, and because Illinois taxpayers already are stretched to the breaking point, new initiatives – even admirable ones such as mandated full-day kindergarten – that will significantly increase costs are not possible.

There is a slight glimmer of hope. In the November general election, Illinoisans will elect a governor; all seats on the state House are up for grabs, as are half in the Senate. If taxpayers want to take their state back, and one day be able to support mandated full-day kindergarten, Election Day is the time to do it.

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