Early childhood programs still waiting on capital cash

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Nearly a year after early childhood programs sent in their applications for Illinois’ first-ever early childhood capital funding program, the $45 million in construction grants have yet to be awarded.

Why the long delay? A large number of applicants and the difficulty of managing the state’s biggest capital spending program in a decade.

“One [factor] was just the volume of interest [and that] the state needs to get the bonds and issue them,” says Julie Smith, deputy chief of staff for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. “It’s a significant effort on the part of the state to get all these things together.”

The state received about 225 applications, requesting over $500 million in funding.

Illinois has identified the programs it would like to fund, and is checking with them to make sure their proposals are still feasible after so long, says Martin Torres, a senior policy analyst at Latino Policy Forum, which pushed for the early childhood capital funding bill. It has also notified a second tier of programs that they might receive funding if the top programs can no longer participate. Other programs have been told that they won’t be funded.

No list has been released publicly.

CPS, which is guaranteed $9 million of the funding as long as it can come up with a 10 percent match, announced in January that it plans to spend half at district schools. The rest will go to community agencies, but CPS and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services have yet to set up an application process for those funds.

At an Oct. 22 Illinois Early Learning Council meeting, members indicated that they planned to send the district and the city a letter offering help with getting the application up and running.  

But CPS chief early childhood officer Beth Mascitti-Miller said the district and the city are already working on it. “Once the money is released from the state, we are going to be releasing the application,” Mascitti-Miller said.