As Illinois navigated the economic downturn, lawmakers made lots of cuts -- including to early childhood education.
Advocates say over the years, that cut off 25,000 kids from access to preschool.
Business leaders say it's time to restore the funding, in the name of economic efficacy later on.
A new report from Cornell University claims that for every dollar invested in early childhood programs, the local economy recoups $1.94.
Lisa Savegnago, who owns a screen printing business in the Chicago suburbs, says she was 'startled' by the state's cuts to early childhood education.
"Preschool opportunities help these children begin to develop the soft skills that business leaders value in employees such as creativity, critical thinking and the ability to collaborate in teams," she said. "Not only do they need to run machines, but they need to be able to work with each other and communicate."
Brad Billings, CEO of Quincy-based Blessing Health System, says the workforce of the future will need more technical skills ... and that begins before kindergarten.
"If we don't grasp that at the legislative level, citizens in this state are going to have a hard time being part of a competitive workforce in the future," he said.
The coalition of business leaders is asking for $25 million to begin restoring cuts made since 2009. But they're not saying where Illinois should raise that money, just asking for it to be prioritized in the state's budget.
That might be a tough request as lawmakers are struggling to fund hundreds of other programs, with income tax rates scheduled to drop at the end of the year.
But Gov. Pat Quinn, who is seeking re-election, is trying to push a so-called "Birth to Five" initiative of his own.