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Gov. Pritzker stopped in Champaign to promote his budget, especially its spending for early childhood programs

Gov. JB Pritzker addresses Unit 4 officials and guests at Champaign's International Prep Academy on Wednesday.

Governor J-B Pritzker and other state officials visited Champaign’s International Prep Academy Wednesday, part of the governor’s tour of the state to promote education spending in the new state budget.

In Champaign, the governor focused on pre-school education. Champaign Unit Four Superintendent Sheila Boozer says her school district is in a preschool desert, due to a shortage of funding for public preschool programs.

Governor Pritzker says the state’s Smart Start Illinois program aims to fill the gap — with a quarter of a billion dollars in the new state budget that lawmakers passed last week.

“And over the next few years, it will provide every child in Champaign, with access to a preschool slot, a preschool program, every single child, and eliminated preschool deserts across the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker to applause from the education officials and teachers gathered for the event.

Pritzker says Smart Start Illinois will pay to open more preschools across the state, and send another 20,000 three-and-four-year-olds to early childhood programs.

Smart Start Illinois is part of a $50 billion state budget plan passed by lawmakers last week that Republicans say is unbalanced and irresponsible.

But Governor Pritzker says it’s exactly the opposite, and calls the GOP criticism increasingly “fanciful”.

The governor defended the budgets passed during his time as governor, and said Illinois’ financial reputation has only improved since he became governor.

“Take it from the credit rating agencies,” said Pritzker. “We don’t control them. They’re in New York. Take it from the bond investors, the folks who buy bonds from the state of Illinois, who more and more are lining up to buy Illinois bonds, because we are a better credit.”

Pritzker says his administration has been both conservative and realistic in estimating new revenue, and hasn’t ignored the possibility of a future recession. The governor says the budget provides much-needed funding for education — but also pays off old debt and puts more money towards pension funds than the law requires.

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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