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An “Ounce” of Early Education Pays Off

December 1, 2017
Kristen Taketa
Education Writers Association

Diana Rauner advocates for early childhood care and education today because of ex-offenders.

The now-first lady of Illinois was working on Wall Street years ago when she began volunteering at a local settlement house, teaching ex-offenders how to read. She remembers being astonished that somebody her age could not know how to read.

“That really was when I decided to start thinking about educational inequities,” Rauner said at a recent Education Writers Association conference on early learning at the Erikson Institute held in Chicago Nov. 6 and 7, 2017.

“I came to early childhood because the science of early childhood is so compelling,” she said. “If you want to think about breaking the connection between illiteracy and the criminal justice system, the place to start is early childhood.”

Rauner is now president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a nonprofit established in 1982 that provides early child care and parenting services to thousands of Illinois low-income families. In addition to home visits for almost 1,900 families, the nonprofit provides “doulas,” or paraprofessionals who help about 700 first-time teen parents bond with their children.

The nonprofit also opened Chicago’s first Educare school in 2000, a preschool that aims to close opportunity and achievement gaps for low-income families. The group also funds and operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs that serve more than 1,400 children and families.