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For immediate release
March 17, 2004

Illinois receives high marks in national Preschool report

(Springfield) - Illinois' recently shared the spotlight with two other states for its quality pre-kindergarten programs.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently released The State of Preschool: 2003 State Preschool Yearbook, the first in an annual series of reports on programs funded by state governments to educate children at ages 3 and 4. The report addressed how state funded preschool programs fare in the areas of access, quality standards and resources. The report details how many states have failed to set high standards for their early childhood programs and are not assuring access to programs.

In the quality standards category, the report explains that while no state met all 10 benchmarks for state quality standards, three state programs met nine out of 10: Arkansas, Illinois and New Jersey's "Abbott District" program.

Illinois met the following benchmarks: it has comprehensive learning standards; teachers are required to hold a Bachelor of Arts as well as hold an Early Childhood teaching certificate; teaching assistants are required to hold an associate's degree; teachers are required to complete 120 hour over five years of in-service professional development; class sizes can not exceed 20 students; staff to child ration is 1:10; programs screen children for vision, hearing and health and parental involvement is required. Because most programs meet for half a day, Illinois does not have any meal requirements for its pre-kindergarten programs.

Illinois ranked 8th in nation for access to its pre-kindergarten programs among 4-year-olds and 4th in the nation for access to 3-year-olds. Despite recent increased funding of early childhood programs, Illinois ranked 17th in the nation in terms of state resources offered.

"Our pre-kindergarten programs are something we should hang our hat on in Illinois," said State Superintendent Robert Schiller. "We have high standards for both our teachers and our students. Teachers are certified in early childhood and incorporate specific learning standards in classrooms whose size is limited. The combination of those factors ensures that each child attending a state funding pre-kindergarten program is in an environment that is ripe for learning."

Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin were the first states to offer a free education to 3- to-5 -year-old children with special needs in the early 1970s. In the mid-1980's, Illinois began to offer the state prekindergarten program for children who are at risk of academic failure. The decision in Illinois came at a time when 70 percent of preschoolers attended private programs. Currently 77-percent of the state's 888 school districts offer state funded pre-kindergarten programs.

Illinois currently has a total enrollment of more than 60,000 in its pre-kindergarten programs and a funding level of $191 million. While many states set criteria for eligibility, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia share the same philosophy that local communities and/ or individual programs determine who is enrolled.

A copy of the complete report may be viewed at

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777