Free tuition and expanded preschool a 'heavy lift'? Suburban lawmakers react to Pritzker inaugural

Gov. J.B. Pritkzer gave a shout-out to the suburbs Monday while delivering an inaugural address that called for expanding preschool access and free college tuition for working-class families.

Much of the Democratic governor's first term was dominated by COVID-19. He spoke of the loss of life and economic hardship the pandemic caused, paying tribute to Illinoisans who toughed it out and cared for others - including a DuPage County contingent.

"When schools closed for eight weeks in 2020, 300 volunteers from Lombard, Villa Park and Oakbrook Terrace rode on a fleet of school buses that provided curbside delivery of 32,000 meals to 3,200 low-income children who would have otherwise gone without a meal."

The governor also gave a brief summary of some second-term priorities.

"Preschool improves academic success for our children, yields higher graduation rates, raises lifetime learning potential and saves taxpayers money. That's why I propose we go all in for our children and make preschool available to every family throughout the state."

And, "it's also our obligation to make college more affordable by removing financial barriers, That's why we need to bring down the costs of higher education," Pritzker said. "Now let's focus on making tuition free for every working-class family in Illinois."

Officials did not provide specifics of the plan, but more details are expected in the governor's upcoming budget address.

Senate Republican Leader-elect John Curran of Downers Grove said that "at the end of the day, people want to feel safe, be able to provide for their families, and have trust and faith in their government. Today's address did very little to give people hope that those things will come.

"I do believe there are areas in which we can find common ground and accomplish great things for the people of Illinois, like ensuring access and affordability to child care and making preschool more available to families," he said. "It is my hope that on these issues that we agree, the governor chooses to work together by taking an inclusive approach."

Sen. Laura Murphy noted a better educated workforce will draw employers. "I'm really glad to see him make that investment in early childhood education; that's where we can have the greatest impact," the Des Plaines Democrat said. She added the Biden administration is expected to help fund early childhood education.

But delivering on expanded preschool and free tuition combined "seems to be a pretty heavy lift to me. I am interested to see what plan he might have to pay for that," Murphy said.

"In my district of middle-class families who struggle to pay the bills and are the backbone of the fiscal security of the state - if we're going to do something they should definitely be included in that," she said.

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