From left, State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, State Representatives Robyn Gabel and Daniel Biss, Bob Heuer and Ann Sills of the Joint Legislative Task Force, which sponsored the forum on education.

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State Senator Jeff Schoenberg and State Representatives Robyn Gabel and Daniel Biss spoke at a “Community Education Forum” sponsored by the Legislative Task Force of School Districts 65 and 202 on Nov. 3. While they recognized the importance of children’s health, early childhood education and preparation for the workforce, they did not hold out hope for an increase in state funding in these areas.

Sen. Schoenberg gave opening remarks on children’s health, well-being and health-care access, noting that learning opportunities improve when children are healthy and have a nutritious diet. He said all sectors of the government were struggling in light of the state of the economy and that communities needed to focus on how to best align the resources and the services they provided. “We need to better align the resources that are already there,” he said, adding, “As legislators we can facilitate ways for that to happen.”

Rep. Gabel cited current research that kids are learning from the moment they are born, and that the achievement gap begins long before kindergarten. She said early childhood education produces significant gains and money spent on those programs has a much greater impact than when the same amount is spent on high school programs. Yet, she said, Illinois has cut $55 million in early childhood programs in the last three years, and 16,000 fewer kids are receiving early childhood services this year than last. More than 67,000 children eligible to receive early childhood services are not receiving them this year, she said.

Rep. Biss said there needs to be better alignment between high school and careers or college. “This is an area the state has not been very good at.” He said students need to be better informed about job opportunities. “Young people are steered toward fields that don’t have opportunities.”

He added that the State’s resources are “extremely constrained,” and that choices on how to spend money are not cast in “adequately clear terms.”

Many representatives of Evanston community organizations gave examples of how they were already collaborating and working together, and some said additional resources and funding were needed. Martha Arnston, executive director of the Child Care Network, said the state has cut one-third of funding for kids ages 3 to 5. “We’d like to see that come back,” she said.

Rep. Gabel said it’s important to work with existing coalitions and to leverage opportunities “because we have no money.”