Real Stories: The Florenzano Family

Jose Florenzano

While the threat of a preschool shutdown may not evoke the same doom-and-gloom as headlines forecasting government shutdown, the results are no less distressing.  In July 2010, Illinois’s largest preschool program, Cicero-based Through a Child’s Eyes (TACE), faced the risk of a complete shutdown due to delayed payments from the state. Shutting TACE’s doors would be devastating not only for the 400-plus children—primarily at-risk Latinos—served by the program, but also for its 24 full-time staff and the many parents forced to abandon their own jobs to stay home with their children.
“It was really sad for me because my child was not going to be able to learn new things,” said Cicero resident Rita Florenzano, whose 4-year-old son Jose now attends pre-Kindergarten at TACE. “It was hard for me and hard for him too because he was excited to come to school.”
But today, TACE continues to serve Cicero-area children and families,  thanks to tenacious advocacy efforts from TACE staff, Illinois elected officials, and the Latino Policy Forum, a McCormick Foundation fundee.
Illinois’ financial crisis worsened through 2010, prompting a pile-up of $10 million in unpaid bills to Latino-serving nonprofits. When the Illinois Comptroller’s office owed entirely state-funded TACE $100,000 last July, the executive director sought help from the Latino Policy Forum, and the two organizations began a month-long fight to keep TACE’s doors open.
With families like the Florenzanos in mind, the Latino Policy Forum leveraged the support of local legislators to prioritize TACE’s funding. The Forum contacted the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and was told that non-mandated programs, such as early childhood education, would not be granted an emergency waiver for payment.
But the Forum didn’t take no for an answer and continued its advocacy, which culminated in a direct appeal to the governor’s office.  Finally, TACE received the lifeline it needed: a check from the Comptroller’s office. Without the tenacity of TACE, the Latino Policy Forum, and all the community leaders involved, children like Jose would have been left without the skills needed to further their education.
“Pre-K is not a luxury, but a necessity,” said Florenzano. “It’s the first step to prepare children for the future.”
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