Illinois gets second largest preschool grant

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Recognizing Illinois’ existing work in early childhood education, the U.S. Department of Education announced today that the state will receive an additional $20 million in annual federal funding to further expand preschool services for 4-year-olds.

Illinois was one of 18 states selected today to share in a new $226 million, four-year federal grant program to develop and expand preschool access to high-quality, full-day programming for children from high-needs communities. The federal government also announced several other new early childhood investments totaling more than $1 billion, about a third of which comes in the form of new public-private partnerships.

For Illinois, the preschool expansion grant money — combined with a massive commitment of new state dollars — should allow the state to reach its goal of creating some 14,000 full-day preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by 2018.

“Providing high-quality early childhood education is a game changer for our economy,” said Governor Pat Quinn in a statement. “While Illinois currently leads the nation in the number of three-year-olds in preschool, we have much more work to do. This major investment in Illinois’ littlest will have a big impact in many of our communities. Every child, no matter where they live, deserves the opportunity to succeed in life.”

After New York State, which received nearly $25 million for Year One, Illinois got the largest share of the funding.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the program will help “give our babies the best start possible” to the rest of their lives. The program is being jointly administered by the departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Illinois and 12 of the other winning states that already serve 10 percent or more of 4-year-olds, or that have received a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, are getting what’s called a “preschool expansion grant.”

“These states are leading the way in expanding access to children in high-need communities,” Duncan said.

Another five states with more limited preschool offerings are getting “development grants” to create the infrastructure for and implement high-quality preschool programs.

The federal dollars that come to Chicago will be used to open 10 new classrooms in Brighton Park and Albany Park, some of the highest-need areas, and expand existing pre-K classrooms across the city to serve some 1,100 children in full-day programming, city officials said in a press release.

In its ambitious application to the federal government, Illinois committed to increasing its own spending on early childhood education programs by $250 million annually by 2020 and substantially improve on and expand its existing early education programs from birth to age 5.

It’s unclear how the state will fund this commitment.  Illinois currently serves about 70,000 3- and 4-year-olds in its Preschool For All program, a number that has fallen in recent years due to cuts in state funding. 

Other announcements in early childhood ed

At a summit on early childhood education at the White House today, officials will also announce a $500 million expansion of the federal Early Head Start and child care programs — money expected to reach more than 30,000 infants and toddlers in 40 states including Illinois. The winning providers have not been announced.

During Tuesday’s press call, Cecilia Muñoz, who directs the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that altogether the new federal funding will reach some 63,000 children across the country.

Also announced today are new investments in so-called social impact bonds, which essentially function as a loan that gets paid back only if certain positive outcomes are met.

According to materials provided by the White House, the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund and the Institute for Child Success will make new funding available for states and communities to develop such financing tools for early childhood education. Under such a program in Chicago, J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation and other investors who will get repaid only if fewer children need expensive special education services.

Finally, dozens of private corporations and foundations today are committing an additional $330 million to pay for programing, research and other initiatives in early childhood education. The so-called “Invest in US” initiative is organized by the First Five Years Fund and includes commitments from the Walt Disney Company, LEGO Foundation and J.B. and M.K. Pritzker foundation. A portion of the newly committed $25 million from the Pritzkers will go toward social impact bond funded programs.

“There’s still too many children in America that enter school not ready to learn, including more than half of disadvantaged children,” Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, said in a statement. “That’s why government at all levels, business leaders, philanthropy and the early childhood community must come together and continue to make investments that give all kids a strong start.”

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