Illinois has traditionally used a competitive grant process to parcel out money for preschools. In the past, that competition was limited to programs that had a history of getting state funds. But this year, after the legislature appropriated an extra $50 million for preschools, the Illinois State Board of Education threw the competition open to all programs.
Once applications were reviewed and ranked, preschools around the state were shocked to learn they wouldn’t be getting the state funding they expected. Some weren’t funded because their grant applications scored below ISBE’s threshold; others weren’t funded simply because the appropriated amount couldn’t cover the demand.
But late yesterday, ISBE announced it had scrounged another $20 million for the Early Childhood Block Grant, thanks to a collaboration with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and the Department of Human Services. The money will go to two of the three eligible categories: Preschool for All Expansion (programs that offer extended day preschool) and the Prevention Initiative, which provides services for at-risk children ages 0 to 3.
This new dose of dollars still won’t cover applicants that scored below 60 on ISBE’s 100-point scale. Several of those applicants have been funded in the past, and have filed appeals asking ISBE to reconsider their scores.
One factor in the funding distribution is the state’s recent effort to increase the quality of early childhood services, pushed by advocates like the Ounce of Prevention Fund.