PLAINFIELD — Early education funding cuts now will cost more in crime down the line, law enforcement leaders said Monday.
“We're not going to be able to arrest our way out of these problems later on,” Shorewood Police Chief Aaron Klima said. “If we don't start early, we're just headed for more trouble.”
Klima joined state lawmakers, school officials and members of anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids Illinois at the Bonnie McBeth Learning Center in Plainfield to push for state funding increases for preschool programs.
The organization — represented by more than 300 police chiefs, sheriffs and state's attorneys statewide — urged lawmakers to avoid cuts to such programs as Springfield budget talks ramp up this month. As part of Monday's event, law enforcement officials and state lawmakers read the book "Police Officers on Patrol" to preschoolers.
Lawmakers will have some “very difficult decisions” to make, Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis said, with an estimated $6 billion budget deficit and more than $110 billion in unfunded pension obligations serving as the backdrop.
But early childhood funding should be the priority, he said.
"Right now, the state's looking at ways to reduce the prison population. But we've come to realize is that ... if you keep them out of the system in the first place, it's the best investment there ever is," Weis said. "It's difficult for people to see that because you have to invest now for something that you won't see for 15, 20 years."
Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes, who serves as president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said the state should avoid cuts to such programs, pointing to his 30-plus years of experience with the Joliet Police Department.
Youth programs keep young children off the streets and in the classroom, he said.
“I've been in the business for 35 years … I've worked on the street in some high crime neighborhoods. (When I worked in Joliet), I would see the 3- and 4-year-olds out on street corners right next to the gang members and drug dealers,” Hayes said.
Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, along with State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said they plan to fight for increased early childhood education funding in next year's budget, though they noted some sacrifices will be necessary.
“We're going to take Rauner at his word,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “He campaigned on the importance of education. We understand there will have to be sacrifices, but I firmly believe this is not where we should cut.”
Officials also called for a $50 million boost to the Early Childhood Block Grant, saying it would help the state leverage important federal grant dollars and focus intensive help on some of the state's highest-need preschoolers.