Delayed state payments put early childhood research in jeopardy

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Delays in state reimbursements have put a study of early childhood programs on thin ice.

Delays in state reimbursements have put a study of early childhood programs on thin ice.

Illinois owes the Erikson Institute more than $1 million for research performed during the last fiscal year for the Institute’s evaluation of Early Childhood Block Grant programs. As a result, according to a letter sent by the Illinois Early Learning Council to the state last week, the ongoing research would end as of July 1.

The letter asks the comptroller to prioritize paying Erikson, warning that without more money, much of the data collected over the past two years “will essentially be useless.” So far, that research has cost nearly $2.8 million.

Researchers had planned to spend this fall giving tests to students, according to the letter. But delaying the assessments jeopardizes the accuracy of the study, by preventing researchers from reliably comparing the baseline data (already collected) with the post-program test results.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus says Erikson Institute has not notified the state that it is terminating the study contract. A spokesman for Erikson declined to comment.

“We understand the challenges that have been caused by the backlog of state payments to Erikson and countless other businesses and organizations that are owed state money,” Fergus says. “We continue to be in contact with Erikson regarding this issue.”

So far, the state has paid Erikson about $350,000 for the research it did last fiscal year, Fergus says.

If the agreement were terminated, she says, it would likely take the state three to six months to find a new contractor.

“The data will never be lost,” Fergus says. “There may be a lag in collecting and analyzing data if Erikson stops work, but that does not change that data has been collected.”

Deanna Durica of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Office of Early Childhood Development says the study is particularly important because it is the only evaluation to date of the state’s Preschool for All program. Without the assessment, the state will lack data about the programs’ strengths and weaknesses.

“If we’re going to start (the study) again, we’re going to have to re-do a lot of the work that we’ve already done,” she says.