Institute of Government & Public Affairs

Early Investments

Building Evidence Regarding Public Investments in Early Care and Education


Across the country, states and cities are investing in early child care and preschool education. These investments stand on evidence that early intervention can positively affect life trajectories. For example, classic studies demonstrate a return to quality care and education in terms of decreased teenage pregnancy, less criminal activity and increased school completion. Yet, recent evidence questions whether these returns are always realized. Rapid expansion of preschool and child care “slots” for children requires concomitant expansion in the workforce of teachers and educators. These front-line professionals in turn need initial education and training as well as ongoing professional development and coaching in order to provide experiences that are both conducive to learning and that nurture their own and attending children’s physical, social and emotional well-being.

Building this capacity is further complicated by the multifaceted marketplace of early child care and education. Unlike during elementary school, when nearly all children enroll in public schools, less than half of young children attend “organized child care facilities,” such as centers and schools, and, relatively few of these facilities fall under the direct control of the education system. Early care also takes place in homes, often by grandparents or other relatives but also by non-relatives in licensed and license-exempt family child care. This diverse landscape complicates early care and education practice and policy, juxtaposing diverse conceptions of what young children need and what levels of professionalization and pay the workforce requires.


Current Projects

Our current projects are organized to encompass several inter-related aspects of early care and education.


Classroom Quality

How well do existing quality measures work?

How can we design better measures?


ECE Workforce

What is the landscape of ECE leaders, teachers and providers, in Illinois and nationally?

What supports exist (and are needed) for the workforce (especially to support high quality practice)?


ECE Market

How do supply and demand align – and what are costs – across the state?

Which programs and providers use what funding streams?

Which families use what kinds of ECE?


Collaborative Projects

Social Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab

McCormick Workforce Initiative

Math at Home

Family Resiliency Center


“Making smart, strategic investments in early childhood can help children thrive for years to come. We are conducting rigorous academic research to better inform—and therefore strengthen—policies for children in care and education settings.”