Early Learning Challenge

Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge: The Illinois Story

We have a vision for every child in Illinois to begin kindergarten healthy, safe, eager to learn and ready to succeed. That starts with making sure children and families, especially those with the most complex needs, have access to high-quality early learning programs. With the help of time-limited funding from the Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), Illinois was able to build its legacy as a leader in early learning and lay a foundation that will allow our vision for children to flourish. We are pleased to present a series of briefs that tell the story of what's been accomplished and what's next.

QRIS Validation Study  

As a part of the State’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge, Illinois is investing in a validation study of ExceleRate Illinois to determine how well the State rating system differentiates levels of quality and how well children in the highest rated programs perform compared to their peers in lower rated programs. Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is contracted to carry out the study.

Follow the links below for information and resources regarding the study. Links will be updated as the project continues.​


Validation Study Fact Sheet

Study Measures


Higher Education Grants

As part of the work of the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge Grant with the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the State is awarding higher education partnership grants to two and four year institutions to work toward more aligned courses and better communication.


IERC Report

The Illinois Education Research Council (IERC) released a report, The Early Childhood Educator Preparation Innovation Grant: Lessons from Initial Implementation, which reveals the barriers to project-specific goal attainment and the catalysts that allowed partnerships to meet their objectives. This research is informative for policy development specific to articulation agreements, current and future early childhood innovation grantees, and others attempting to build stronger and more authentic partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions. Follow the links below for the executive summary and full report. Follow the IERC on twitter @IERC_SIUE.


Executive Summary

Full Report



In 2011, in addition to Race to the Top, the federal government invited states to compete for a total of $500 million to improve their early childhood care and education systems for children from birth to age five. Jointly administered by the US Department of Education and the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Early Learning Challenge tasks states with engaging a diverse group of community stakeholders in an effort to enhance access to quality early learning programs for low-income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children.

Although Illinois was not selected for an award in Phase I, the projects included in our application remain priorities for the State.

In 2012, the Departments invited the next 5 highest scoring states, including Illinois, to apply for an additional opportunity to pursue projects outlined in their original application. The Departments have released additional guidance regarding administration for the second phase however the application is not expected to be made available until end of summer 2012. Illinois is eligible to receive up to $35M during this round. These funds must be distributed by December 31, 2012.

Illinois' Phase I Early Learning Challenge Proposal

Additional Resources