Early Childhood Education

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A Strong Start Makes a Lifetime of Difference

“Children are born ready to learn.”

With this mantra, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation began investing in early childhood education more than 30 years ago. In that time, we have worked to ensure all children, from birth through kindergarten, have access to the high quality education they need to develop to their full potential.

Beyond gains for the child, early childhood education is essential for families, is an advantage to businesses, and benefits communities in extraordinary ways.

The Foundation partners with state and city officials and community groups to ensure equal access to quality early childhood education, to train and support an engaged workforce, and to provide safe learning environments.

Applications for funding are extended by invitation only. At this time, unsolicited letters of inquiry are not accepted.

Early Childhood Education Snapshot

Since Illinois began measuring kindergarten readiness statewide in 2017, initial gains have plateaued, with fewer than a third of incoming students observed to be ready in all developmental areas. At the same time, communities that have historically received the least investment continue to face gaps in access to high-quality early childhood education, demonstrated by enrollment. By investing in families, communities, educators and early education leaders, the Foundation is committed to challenging these trends and ensuring that children birth through kindergarten across the state can reach their fullest potential.


The Illinois’ KIDS Survey assesses the developmental readiness of children entering kindergarten.

Illinois Report Card


Enrollment still lags pre-pandemic levels, with under-resourced communities being the greatest area of opportunity for recruitment.

CPS District Data


Enrollment still lags pre-pandemic levels, with under-resourced communities being the greatest area of opportunity for recruitment.

CPS District Data


Little Village, North Lawndale, Aurora, DeKalb County, Elgin, Rockford, Englewood.

Basics Illinois

Playful Learning

Grants & Partners Since 2020


The Foundation’s support goes beyond just the classroom itself to include investing in teachers, especially a robust teacher pipeline, and helping families engage in services and support their children.

Total Organization
$1,665,000 Illinois Action for Children Creating a just system for child care and early education that ensures equitable outcomes for all children. Learn More
$1,084,000 Carole Robertson Center for Learning Educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs. Learn More
$875,000 Latino Policy Forum Building a foundation for equity, justice and economic prosperity for the Latino community. Learn More
$700,000 Start Early Advancing quality early learning for children, before birth through their earliest years, to help close the opportunity gap. Learn More
$655,000 Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies Making high quality, affordable early care and education and school-age care options available for children and families in Illinois. Learn More
$620,000 Advance Illinois Improving outcomes for every student by engaging and collaborating with community partners to develop research-driven policies. Learn More

Strengthen Leaders

  • Provide early education leaders, especially in Englewood and Little Village, the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
  • Invest in tools that allow for a more granular, real-time understanding of Chicago’s early learning system.
  • Align networks of advocates, researchers, and community leaders to achieve a more efficient, equitable, and impactful early education system in Chicago.

Equip Educators

  • Improve teacher preparation and professional development to ensure children start kindergarten ready to thrive.
  • Ensure a stable, diverse, and highly-prepared workforce to meet the needs of children.

Support Families and Communities

  • Promote positive engagement between children and adults to support a child’s development and improve educational outcomes.
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