Galesburg region battles drastic early childhood education cuts

GALESBURG, Illinois -

A four-county region is battling nearly $3 million in state cuts to early childhood education programs.

"The impact is huge," said ROWVA Superintendent Joe Sornberger.  "To me, we're taking a step backward."

The Illinois State Board of Education is abruptly cutting off the cash to some 88 programs statewide. That's after pumping more than $1 million into the regional programs just months ago.

The move will shutter some eight classrooms and also impact access to the Pre-School for All program.

"I was really upset," said new mom, Shelby Kilpatrick, 18.

She and her one-month old daughter, Isabella Peterson, participate in the Birth to Three program in Galesburg. But now, she doesn't know where to turn.

"As new moms, we tend to get stuck a lot on our own," she said on Wednesday, June 20.  "We don't really have a lot of people to talk to or connect with."

That's why parent-educators, with their own jobs on the line, hold cutouts representing more than a thousand kids losing services in Knox, Warren, Mercer and Henderson Counties.

"I have the resources," said Stephanie Johnson, a parent-educator on the bubble in Knoxville, Illinois.  "I have the knowledge. I came from what these teen mothers are coming from."

Co-worker Michelle Shepler knows about dedication on the job.

"I get text messages all weekend and the evenings," she said.  "I worry about what they'll do when they lose our services."

The decision will cut most full day programs back to a half day and likely drop nearly three dozen staffers like Johnson.  They hope that a passionate appeal can reverse the decision.

"We hope that through an investigative process, through the appeal, that things will be looked at differently," said Regional Superintendent Jodi Scott.  "Hopefully, this will be turned around."

At a time when early childhood education is more important than ever, the ruling is perplexing to local leaders.

"When we're funding and expanding programs four months ago, and they take the money and investment away, that's an important thing for taxpayers to know," Scott said.

The 60-day appeal could reverse the decision.  Without it, the plans will be in place for five years.

For Johnson, though, it's no time to give up the fight.

"You can't lose hope," she concluded.  "I want to be that hope.  I want to show them there's a way."