ILLINOIS (WIFR) -- Students, families and teachers were joined by Governor Quinn to announce a $45 million investment for vital improvements to early childhood education facilities in high-need communities across Illinois. The 14 Early Childhood Construction Grants (ECCG) are funded through Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program and will expand access to early childhood education, which experts have noted is critical to a student’s success.
Today’s announcement is part of a plan to strengthen Illinois’ education system by improving early childhood education, modernizing school facilities, expanding science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction, and implementing bold reforms that put children first.
“The achievement gap begins before a child steps foot into kindergarten,” Governor Quinn said. “We know that investing in early childhood education is the best way to ensure lifelong success for our students. By setting our youngest learners on the right track now, we can prepare them for a lifetime of growth and strengthen our economy for the future.”
The ECCG is the first program in the nation of its kind, and is funded through Illinois Jobs Now! to increase early childhood services in under served areas across Illinois. Organizations receiving the awards went through a competitive grant process that included specifying how the funds will be spent to improve early childhood education in their communities. The awards may be used to acquire or construct a facility or expand an existing facility as well as to purchase equipment and make safety improvements. Early childhood providers in Cook, McHenry, Will, Winnebago, St. Clair, Kane and Kankakee counties were among the successful applicants (A full listing is attached).
Today’s announcement was made at Cicero’s “Through A Child’s Eyes” Pre-K program, which focuses on helping children deemed to be at-risk of academic failure. In the last school year, the program served 467 students, with 95 percent coming from families at or below the poverty level. By the end of the school year, approximately 90 percent of at-risk three and four-year-olds had met or exceeded expectations in literacy learning skills following their participation in the program.
“Thanks to these funds, some of our most vulnerable children will get access to early childhood education and services that might not otherwise be available,” State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico said. “Studies have proven time and time again that such programming changes lives and yields social, academic and economic benefits. This is especially important as we work to reduce the achievement gap in the coming years.”
The ECCG awards follow an announcement earlier this month that Illinois was awarded a $34.8 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The funds will support quality improvements to Illinois’ early learning system including the development of a unified system that enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of programs.