For Immediate Release
Tuesday, March 19, 2024

ISBE releases the fiscal year 2025 Early Childhood Block Grant Request for Proposals to award $75 million in Smart Start Illinois funding to expand access to preschool

FY 2025 Early Childhood Block Grant Program aims to build on successes in FY 2024 and serve 5,000 additional children in preschool deserts statewide​

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released the Request for Proposals to award $75 million in Smart Start Illinois funding to expand access to preschool, pending appropriations. The grant is the next step in Governor JB Pritzker's four-year Smart Start Illinois plan to fully eliminate preschool deserts in Illinois.  

The FY 2025 program aims to build on the successes of FY 2024 and serve 5,000 additional children through Preschool for All and Preschool for All Expansion programs in preschool deserts statewide. The inaugural year of the Smart Start Illinois initiative exceeded its goal by providing 5,866 new preschool seats last year, contributing to the broader goal of serving 20,000 additional children and ensuring equitable access to preschool by FY 2027. 

“Here in Illinois, we're working to ensure every child has the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive, no matter their background or zip code," said Governor JB Pritzker. “With another expansion of the Early Childhood Block Grant, we will continue to eliminate preschool deserts and invest in providers and programs across our state. By preparing our youngest Illinoisans for success, we're ensuring a brighter future for children and families statewide."  

"Early childhood education isn't just preparation for school; it's preparation for life," said State Superintendent Dr. Tony Sanders. "It instills essential skills such as resilience, problem-solving, and social-emotional competence that are invaluable in navigating challenges in school and beyond. The first year of the Smart Start preschool expansion increased access to more than 5,800 additional children. We look forward the building on that enormous progress until every child and family in Illinois has access to high-quality early childhood education." 

The Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG) provides funding for three programs: 

  • Preschool for All (PFA) – Half-day (2.5 hours per day), high-quality preschool for 3-5-year-olds with licensed teachers and standards-aligned curriculum. 
  • Preschool for All Expansion (PFAE) – Full-day (five hours per day), high-quality preschool, along with comprehensive physical and mental health services designed to serve 3-5-year-olds in the highest-need communities. 
  • Prevention Initiative (PI) – Provides services for children and families prenatal to 3 years old in two program options: center-based care and home visiting. The FY 2025 Request for Proposals (RFP) will fund only center-based PI services for children 6 weeks to 3 years of age in child care centers licensed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. With any remaining available funds, ISBE will prioritize raising the base salary requirements of home visitors, home visitor supervisors, doulas, and doula supervisors to align with similar positions at the Illinois Department of Human Services. This is a part of an effort to align home visiting programs in the state.   

Public school districts, Regional Offices of Education, charter schools, vocational centers, and nonprofit or for-profit organizations with experience in early childhood education that serve children in preschool deserts outside the city of Chicago are eligible to apply for the FY 2025 Early Childhood Block Grant. (Chicago Public Schools receives 37% of the ECBG appropriation to fund early childhood services for children prenatal through 4 years old within the city of Chicago limits.)  

Family child care and family child care group homes licensed by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services can apply in partnership with administrative agents from a Local Education Agency or another eligible applicant. The number of programs awarded will be determined by the number of applications received and the amount of funds available. 

In application for PFA/PFAE, priority will be given to applicants that propose to offer services in early childhood deserts, defined as areas that do not serve at least 80% of eligible 3-and 4-year-old children. Find a map of priority preschool deserts on the ISBE ECBG Preschool Desert webpage. 

In applications for center-based PI, priority will be given to applicants who currently have a PFA or PFAE program and now wish to add Prevention Initiative to promote continuity of ECBG services between PFA/PFAE and PI. 

All currently funded programs are extended through FY 2026. Currently funded ECBG programs do not need to respond to this RFP to maintain current funding, unless the entity wishes to apply for funding to expand their program to serve additional children.  

The Birth to Five Illinois Regional Team is also available throughout the application window to assist with accessing, understanding, and utilizing the preschool desert data in funding applications. Additionally, ISBE will host virtual technical assistance webinars to assist grantees at:

  • 4-5 p.m. on March 26
  • 10-11 a.m. on April 10
  • 10:30-11:30 a.m. on April 22
  • 9:30-10:30 a.m. on May 3

There also will be virtual technical assistance office hours from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on April 11 and noon-1 p.m. on April 29. The virtual links for these webinars and office hours can be found on the ISBE ECBG webpage. ISBE hosted grant-writing webinars in January to assist grantees in understanding the grant life cycle and to provide tools to craft stronger grant proposals. 

ISBE has provided a communications toolkit to help spread the word about the funding opportunity to providers in preschool deserts. 

Interested applicants may access the Request for Proposals on the ISBE ECBG webpage. Proposals are due to ISBE no later than 4 p.m. May 16.​​