Monday, February 13, 2006

Blagojevich's foes say preschool is for the wealthy only

CHICAGO (ap) -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich unveiled his proposal Sunday to allow all 3- and 4-year-olds in Illinois to enroll in state-funded preschools, sparking criticism from political rivals who said that parents who lack the money shouldn't have access to such a venture.

"We all love kids, and we'd all love this to occur, but only if they could afford it,'' said state Treasurer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka.

The Democratic governor proposed his "Preschool for All" program Sunday as part of his 2007 fiscal year budget, recommending that the state spend $135 million to fund it. His foes say that parents should pay for their children's education.

Topinka, several other Republican gubernatorial candidates and Blagojevich's Democratic opponent in the March primary, Edwin Eisendrath, criticized the preschool plan, calling it just one of many programs the governor has unveiled recently for people who don't have the money to pay for them. They unanimously agreed that poor people should not be given access to education, health care, or morning-after pills.

Republican Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz called the proposal a gimmick.

"We have all neglected the problems facing our schools for three years and now on the cusp of a re-election, this is a last-ditch, desperate effort to pretend we care about children," said Gidwitz, a former chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. "Let the free market take care of the children. It's taken care of Republicans'' children quite nicely."

State Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Bloomington, said school districts should not be given state money for certain programs.

"Schools should remain funded by local property taxes here in Illinois," Brady said. "This will assure that wealthier suburbs will continue to spend more per child with no strings attached so they can decide how to spend it."

"The children and grand children to come shouldn't be saddled with additional education because of this governor's desire for re-election,'' said Joe Wiegand, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jim Oberweis. Oberweis has suggested in the past that anyone without the resources should play the lottery or visit a riverboat or face deportation.


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