State cuts 
imperil preschool program

HEBRON – The fate of District 19’s preschool program remains in doubt as state funding cuts for education loom.

The district’s preschool program has been solely funded by the state. District officials have sent a letter to parents asking whether they would be interested in supporting a fee-based preschool system should state funding fail to materialize.

“This is an important aspect of our education program,” District 19 Superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg said. “Ours is fully funded by the state, so we wanted to hear from parents if they would be interested in a fee-based system.”

Ehlenburg said that in the budgets of Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois State Board of Education, grants for District 19’s preschool program would be cut by 25 percent to 30 percent.

If that figure becomes a reality, the district likely would reduce its preschool program by about half. Currently, District 19 offers a morning and an afternoon session, with each serving 19 to 20 students.

Ehlenburg said that if a state budget is approved by May 30, they will have some answers, but for now, the issue of state funding remains uncertain.

District 19’s current preschool program is for at-risk children only. Children are screened on issues such as speech/language development and other readiness skills. If the district went to a fee-based system, it would be open to anyone.

It’s also possible that grant funding could be cut or eliminated and later reinstated. If that happened, parents of students who qualified for the at-risk program and paid a fee would get their money back. However, that would not apply to students who would not have qualified for the at-risk program.

The letter to parents estimated that the cost of the program would be $160 to $200 a month.

District 19 was placed on the state’s financial watch list, but school officials believe that they will be taken off that list next year.

Although the district had a budget deficit of $255,000 in 2008-09, the budget for the fiscal year that is ending is balanced, said Pat Syens, who serves as treasurer for the district.

Syens said the budget for the coming fiscal year, 2010-11, also is balanced.

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