Access to early childhood education is a key factor in students’ long-term academic persistence and success. Research shows that low-income students hear 30 million fewer words than their wealthier peers by age 3,(1) and students with access to high quality early education and kindergarten programs are better equipped to succeed in elementary school. When low-income students start behind, they face an upward battle to catch up. Providing access to high-quality, publically-funded education seats is key to closing opportunity gaps and enabling all students to reach their potential.
Illinois would need an additional 25,000 seats to serve all its low-income 3- and 4-year olds and has made little progress in expanding access to early education programs. While Illinois has 10,000 fewer low-income 3- and 4-year-olds than it did in 2009, it has cut nearly 20,000 early education seats.(2) But access varies by county. While Kane County needs an additional 2,500 seats to support its low-income students, nearby Livingston County is well equipped to serve its low-income families. Increasing high-quality early education seats in counties with the greatest need will ensure more students are ready to succeed in kindergarten.
Expanding high quality, publically-funded early education programs is a necessary step to ensuring more students persist to and through postsecondary. When students start on track, it’s easier for them to stay on track. As the state rolls out new early education initiatives, it should consider regional needs and barriers to high quality early education, and target resources to districts with the greatest early education barriers.
(2) Illinois Early Childhood Access Map, 2015. This data includes PFA and Head Start seats exclusively.
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