Weather Updates

Invest in people, you’ll always get money’s worth

Updated: April 21, 2011 12:18AM

Actually, I had an entirely different column written on this subject until an editor asked me what it was about.

So I told him I spent a couple days this week with a group of primarily Latino parents as well as educators and community leaders who were going to Springfield to tell legislators their stories and why it’s important to maintain funding for child care and early childhood education.

Curmudgeon that my editor is, he said basically, “Yeah, that’s fine and good, but be realistic; what is the state supposed to do? If you don’t cut there, what should you cut?”

So, I decided to scrap the warm and fuzzy column I had written and be the realist I was asked to be about the subject.

True, the proposed budget for Illinois that Gov. Quinn unveiled last month is a lean one. And I understand Illinois has some serious debt problems. But I’ll fall on the side of using dollars for people every time. I believe that if you invest in people, you’ll always get your money’s worth — and then some.

Lobbyists for special interests will be motoring down to Springfield and grabbing the ear of every state legislator they can for their pet projects.

So it was smart for this group of concerned people, brought together by the Latino Policy Forum, to do the same and share the stories of the people behind the numbers.

For good reasons, they’ve zeroed in on cuts to programs that receive funding through the Illinois Department of Human Service.

Right now, it looks like that department will be trimmed by $100 million. If the proposed budget cuts pass, they will affect child-care services and organizations that serve Latino communities.

Nearly 70 percent of state funding directed to those organization comes from the Department of Human Services, according to the Latino Policy Forum.

There are concerns, too, that in the budgeting process, early childhood programs could be affected, although right now it looks like that funding has been preserved, and some recent cuts have been restored in the next state budget proposal.

It’s no wonder people in Latino communities are worried, and it’s why that group got on an early morning bus last week and took their concerns to legislators.

For a lot of them, it was their first time in Springfield and their first encounter with state legislators. Good for them.

Without quality child care, working parents have two awful options: leave their most precious possessions, their children, in substandard care or stop working. If they choose the latter, their families are impoverished, and at some point it’s a good bet that they’ll need to lean on their state government for some sort of assistance.

Both times I left the Springfield-bound group, I traveled out of Little Village past Cook County Jail. I was reminded of the young teens I met at the jail while working on an earlier column. Some of them were not more than children themselves, but they were on their way into the state’s penal system.

And it got me thinking that if those same teens had been exposed to good child care and given the opportunity to have a strong educational foundation at a young age, would they still be inmates?

Certainly the state didn’t save any money on those young men.

We can spend our state dollars upfront on children and be rewarded — or we may be forced to shell out a whole lot more later.

How’s that for reality?

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.