Chicago Early Learning (CEL)

The City of Chicago is committed to providing children across the city with access to high-quality early learning through a comprehensive, citywide system of school- and community-based programs known as Chicago Early Learning (CEL). The Children Service Division (CSD) at the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) administers funding to all community-based CEL programs. CSD’s efforts to build this strong system of services are guided by the following three priorities:

  • Maximize access to high quality early learning programs by matching investments to the needs of local communities and reducing the barriers to entry for children and families;
  • Improve the comprehensiveness and quality of early learning across all programs to ensure that children and families’ needs are met; and
  • Create a strong system of service providers by increasing support and reducing the administrative burden for community-based providers of early learning

CEL Website & Hotline - ChicagoEarlyLearning.orgHotline: 312-229-1690

The CEL hotline and website are top resources for accessing CEL programs and services like the early learning application, program map and more. 

CEL Program Implementation Manual - Chicago Early Learning Standards Manual (CELS) 2.0

The Manual has been a group effort—the result of thoughtful input from staff of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) Children Services Division, the Chicago Public Schools Community Partnership Program, and Head Start, Early Head Start, Pre-School for All, and Prevention Initiative delegate agencies. The Manual provides guidance of program implementation for all Chicago Early Learning programs.

CEL Extended Partnerships - Click here to read news release

The City extended funding for 25 early-learning program providers that saw a decrease of more than 20% in funding as a result of the 2019 CEL RFP process. The City extended funding for those providers to 80% of their existing contract level through June 30, 2020, which allowed children and families to remain in their current programs through the program year.

FAQ on Extended Partnerships

Baker McKenzie's CEL RFP Process Assessment - Click here to read the report

In an effort to address the integrity of the 2019 CEL RFP process, DFSS retained law firm Baker McKenzie in a pro bono capacity to conduct an independent review of the Early Learning RFP process. Specifically, Baker McKenzie was requested to assess DFSS's RFP to consider whether DFSS had a process for the RFP and adhered to that process in its selection of provider agencies.

Baker McKenzie concluded that the CEL RFP process was appropriate, fair and unbiased. Baker McKenzie’s determined that the CEL RFP process was reasonably designed, that DFSS adhered to the process set out in the RFP and that DFSS demonstrated a commitment to bring objectivity, impartiality and a level playing field to the RFP process.

FAQs on the Baker McKenzie Process Assessment

CEL 2019 Request for Proposal (RFP) - Click here for RFP Details

In April 2019, DFSS released the Chicago Early Learning RFP.  This RFP, the first in roughly seven years, asked early-childhood education organizations to submit proposals that embraced:

  • Advancing kindergarten readiness,
  • Providing access to high-quality Chicago Early Learning programs in community-based organizations in neighborhoods across the city,
  • Improving quality standards: lower child-to-adult ratios, raising staff qualifications, increasing teacher salary minimums, prioritizing education/appropriate early learning services, etc., and
  • Maximizing funding streams: blending of federal and state dollars in order to fund early learning at the level necessary to deliver quality education.  

CEL RFP Guidance

CEL RFP Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The Context

The service philosophy of the City of Chicago and CEL is that children of all backgrounds require quality early learning experiences to promote their social emotional, physical, language and cognitive development. The roll out of Universal Pre-K (UPK4) in communities across the city and new, state policies that allow children to enroll in kindergarten earlier will shape a new early childhood ecosystem that community-based programs and public schools must respond to. In the 2017-2018 school year, all kindergarten teachers in Illinois began observing their students on a common set of developmental measures using the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS). According to the KIDS study, only 22% of African-American children and 15% of Hispanic children are considered school-ready when they show up on the first day of kindergarten.

Competitive Process

DFSS received close to 250 proposals from over 150 different agencies. 

The Funding

Through this RFP, DFSS distributed to community-based agencies $193,147,500 in funding to support early learning services for children birth to five. In federal funding, this includes $80,884,000 in Head Start, $25,587,000 in Early Head Start, $12,281,500 in Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership, and in state funding this include $32,049,000 in Preschool for All, and $42,346,000 in Prevention Initiative.

The Effective Date

DFSS granted extensions to state funded programs (PFA/PI), and all current grantees will be funded through November 30, 2019. DFSS will work with agencies that are not being funded in the new contract to develop customized transition plans for both families and agencies over the next three months.

The Increased Investment in Early Learning

Across the city there was an increase of nearly 1,600 early learning slots in community-based agencies through the RFP. While some communities did, in fact, see a reduction in funding as a result of the RFP, others saw an increase. Increases and decreases by community were due to many factors, including the quantity and quality of application by community area, the targeted populations by community area, community area need and capacity. Through the RFP, funded agencies are being better compensated for services for each slot. The increased teacher salaries and higher quality standards were the reasons DFSS increased the cost per child, or reimbursement rate, across programs as illustrated below.

For preschool services:

Funding Stream 2019 slot allocation per child 2020 slot allocation with the RFP per child
Head Start Center-Based $8,721 $11,000
Head Start Home-Visiting $8,721 $9,000
PFA Center-Based $4,500 $5,400

For infant/toddler services:
Funding Stream 2019 slot allocation per child 2020 slot allocation with the RFP per child
Early Head Start Center-Based $8,721 $13,500
Early Head Start Home-Visiting $8,721 $9,000
PI Center-Based $8,000 - $10,000 $11,000
PI Home Visiting $4,400 $5,000

RFP Awarded Grants 


Ada S McKinley Community Services Inc. $  8,310,400
Alain Locke Charter School $    216,000
Albany Park Community Center, Incorporated $ 1,518,200
All Star Kids Academy $    183,600
Allisons Infant & Toddler Center Inc $  1,996,200
Asian Human Services, Inc. $  2,960,000
Board Of Trustees Of Community College District #508, County Of Cook And State Of Illinois $  4,739,760
Brain Box Literacy Academy & Educational Services $      91,800
Breakthrough Urban Ministries, Inc. $     359,400
Carole Robertson Center For Learning $10,045,575
Casa Central Social Services Corporation $     543,200
Catholic Charities Of The Archdiocese Of Chicago $ 5,108,400
Centers For New Horizons Inc $ 4,405,800
Chicago Child Care Society $ 3,581,600
Chicago Commons Association $ 9,726,960
Chicago Youth Centers $ 6,075,780
Children's Center For Creative Learning Inc $    427,200
Children's Center Incorporated $    982,600
Children's Development Corporation $ 1,078,800
Children's Home & Aid Society Of Illinois $ 1,254,800
Children's Place Association $    595,000
Childserv $    430,000
Chinese American Service League, Inc. $    785,600
Christopher House $ 5,668,000
Concordia Place $ 1,065,000
Cottage Grove Community Services DBA Busy Bumble Bee Academy $    616,000
Cuddle Care, Inc   $      81,000
DreamChild Development Center $      97,200
Early Child Care Services Inc $      43,200
Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, Inc $ 5,732,440
El Hogar Del Nino $ 4,209,760
El Valor Corporation $13,611,720
Erie Neighborhood House $ 4,251,760
Family Focus, Inc.    $    546,000
Family Focus, Inc.  Home Based/Home Visiting $ 1,332,000
First Start Child Care Academy South, Inc. $    240,400
Foresight Children Learning Center Inc $      97,200
Gads Hill Center $ 7,849,405
Galewood Enterprises LTD $    427,200
GIA Group Inc dba The Learning Tree II $    557,600
Heaven's Learning Garden Inc. $    711,400
Henry Booth House $ 8,712,640
Higher Learning Daycare & Education Center Incorporated dba Higher Learning Childcare & Development $    711,200
Hobby Horse Nursery School Ltd dba Lake Shore Schools $ 2,186,200
Holy Family Ministries $    367,200
Howard Area Community Center $    330,000
Illinois Institute for Children $    443,800
Improved Child Care Management Services Corporation $    655,440
Institute Of Positive Education $      91,800
It Takes A Village Child Care Services, Incorporated $ 5,907,315
J AND L Family Day Care Inc. $    194,400
JPE Day Care Center, Inc. $    271,600
Judah International Outreach Ministries Inc $    713,200
Kenyatta Day Care Center $      97,200
Kiddy Kare Pre Sschool Inc $    712,800
Kimball Daycare $ 4,857,800
Lakeview Development Center $      91,800
Lawndale Educational And Regional Network Charter School $    615,600
Lee's Cuddles N Care Inc $      97,200
Literacy Zone, Inc $    273,200
Little Achievers Learning Center Inc $      91,800
Little Genius Community Daycare Center Inc $    183,600
Little Hands Child Creative Center Inc $    183,600
Little Kiddies Inc $      97,200
Loop Learning Center Inc $ 1,133,400
Marillac St. Vincent Family Services Inc DBA St. Vincent DePaul Center $ 2,057,400
Mary Crane League $ 7,143,520
Metropolitan Family Services $ 4,604,000
Montessori Foundations Of Chicago Inc $    198,000
Mother's Touch Inc II $      91,800
N & K Corporation $    457,440
New Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church DBA New Pisgah Day Care $    557,600
North Star Child Development Center $    275,400
Northwestern University Settlement Association $ 1,003,920
One Hope United - Northern Region $    550,800
Onward Neighborhood House $ 2,311,000
Options For Youth HV $    430,000
Ounce Of Prevention Fund $ 1,141,400
Pathways To Learning Child Care Center Incorporated $    183,600
Project Org + Design Studio HV $    360,000
Rachel's Learning Centers LTD $    704,000
Reach For The Stars Childcare Academy Inc $      91,800
Refugeeone HV $    240,000
Serendipity Child Care Inc $ 1,327,870
SGA Youth & Family Services, NFP   $ 3,810,480
Shining Star Youth & Community Services DBA Shining Star Early Learning Academy $ 3,866,280
Sinai Community Institute, Inc. $    600,000
South-East Asia Center $    162,000
Star Kids Math and Science Academy, Inc. $      91,800
Stepping Stones Early Childhood Learning Center Inc $    318,000
Sweet Pea Academy $    267,800
Teddy Bear Nursery Schools Inc $ 1,797,400
The Baby Academy $    443,800
The Chicago Lighthouse For People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired $      91,800
The Hana Center $    756,320
The Montessori Network $    583,000
The Salvation Army $ 3,112,400
Trinity United Church Of Christ Child Care Centers, Incorporated $ 2,368,480
True To Life Foundation HV $    660,000
Tuesday's Child $    220,000
Whiz Kids Nursery Center Inc $      81,000
Young Achievers Academy Inc $    568,000

Young Men's Christian Association of Chicago

$ 8,045,435


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