Friday, December 16, 2011

Illinois' Continued Commitment & Vision for a Robust Early Education System

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

Today, Illinois and its many public and private sector leaders in the early learning field have reason to reflect on the saying, "it is not the destination but the journey." Although Illinois – a long-time, national role model for its early education system – was not selected by the U.S. Department of Education as a winner of the Early Learning Challenge Fund competition, Illinois is to be commended for its participation in this national competition. The path for this competition – a process with an aggressive timeline and a demanding application – gave birth to new ideas, many of which will benefit young children in Illinois for generations to come. While not a recipient of the federal funds announced today, Illinois can stand tall and take pride in its many significant milestones it has achieved on its way to being recognized as one of the best early education systems in the United States:
  • First state to establish a statutory set-aside to fund services in the critical first three years of a child's life, irrevocably attaching the hard science of brain development to the State’s policy for education funding (1997)*;
  • First state to pass legislation which authorized universal high-quality preschool for both three and four year olds (2006)*;
  • First state to extend its definition of "children of limited English-speaking ability" to include 3- and 4-year olds participating in state-funded preschool programs, thereby requiring school districts to provide them bilingual education services (2009)*; and
  • One of only a few states that has defined its principal certification as Preschool to grade 12, requiring principal candidates to receive training specifically in early learning and child development*

And the benefits of the process do not end with new ideas alone. This path also forged new partnerships and re-kindled old ones. At a time when news stories are often saturated with conflicts and partisan bickering, this process resulted in both public sector and private sector leaders in Illinois coming together for countless productive discussions around how to refine a vision  for a better early care and education system for our most vulnerable young children. So in the spirit of "the glass is half full," we applaud Illinois and all those who participated in this process for daring to plan for the world class early education system we want – and need – for our youngest children.

We invite you to learn more about the Early Learning Challenge Fund through the resources from our colleagues at the First Five Years Fund and watch the Foundation’s site or more information about the positive changes in store for Illinois:

Related Links:
 First Five Years Fund Early Learning Challenge Communications toolkit.
Summary of the RTT-ELC application requirements.
Visit the U.S. Department of Education's RTT-ELC page.
*State of Illinois: Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grant Application

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