FAQ

Great START (Strategy to Attract and Retain Teachers) is a wage supplement program that acknowledges eligible early care and education and school-age care professionals for attaining education above Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) licensing standards, and for remaining at their current place of employment. Great START was introduced into legislation in June 2000 and was permanently signed into law in 2004. The Great START Program is administered by the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) and funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Bureau of Child Care and Development.

Practitioners working in one of the following positions may apply:

  • Family Child Care Provider, Family Child Care Assistant, Group Home Provider, Group Home Assistant
  • Center Staff: Director, Assistant Director, Teacher, Assistant Teacher
  • Care for Illinois children
  • Employed by an eligible program
  • Have been employed by current center or home for a required minimum amount of time
  • Work a minimum average of at least 15 hours per week
  • Earn $18.00 per hour or less and $37,440.00 per year or less
  • Be a citizen of the United States or legal alien
  • Meet Wage Supplement Scale educational requirements

IDCFS licensed programs or providers must be operating eight consecutive hours (full day) or more caring for the same group of children at least 47 weeks per year (full year) to meet Great START eligibility program requirements.

  • At least one classroom within the licensed program (physical site) must offer full day/full year care.
  • Applicants must be regularly scheduled and working in a full day/full year program.
  • Applicants who work in a 9-month before and after school-age program that has full day care during the summer and school holidays; and programs that serve kindergarten children for half days during the school year are eligible.
  • Applicants may work in a 9-month classroom and a 12-month classroom with the same agency over the summer with no break in employment.
    • Both sites/programs must have at least one classroom that offers full day/full year care.
  • If applicant works at one site location then moves to another site location for the summer, both sites must have at least one classroom that is operating full day/full year.
  • Applicants who work in one classroom then move to another classroom within the same site will be eligible.
    • Includes full time floaters working directly with children.
    • Includes full time roving substitutes working 50% of the day directly with children.
  • Applicants may work in one physical site for half a day and another physical site with the same agency for the other half day. Both sites must have at least one classroom that offers full day/full year care.
  • Applicants who work for programs serving teen mothers that operate a minimum of a full school year are eligible to apply for the Great START program.

Upon review of an application and documentation submitted a Great START Specialist may request further documentation or information.

 

Yes! Great START builds on and complements the Gateways to Opportunity Scholarship Program. The Gateways Scholarship Program assists early care and education and school-age care practitioners with attaining more education. 

Center Based practitioners may verify employment by submitting the following required documents:

  • Four weeks of current and consecutive paystubs
    • If the application is received between the 1st -15th day of the month, previous months paystubs are acceptable
    • If the application is received between the 16th and last day of the month, at least one paystub should be from the current month
  • IRS Form W-2
    • W-2 cannot be handwritten
    • If a person cannot produce a W-2 because of being employed less than one year by their site he/she will be required to submit documentation from his/her employer verifying their start date. This letter needs to be signed and dated by the director. Example:  Due to previous center closing
  • Effective July 1, 2020, Great START Program applicants working at Silver or Gold ExceleRate Illinois sites can be eligible after six consecutive months of employment.  All other eligibility requirements must be met for these applicants to be found eligible.
    • A letter from the director must be submitted on company letter head and/or via email confirming the applicant’s start date, and that no consecutive time off greater than 3 days has been taken by the applicant within the six month time frame
    • If the 6-month period was interrupted by the COVID 19 pandemic, detailed information, including dates of departure and return should be included
  • If an applicant cannot produce four weeks of most recent pay stubs, the applicant must submit a payroll history or letter on company letterhead (if applicable) with hours worked, hourly pay, social security number of employee and federal and state withholdings
    • Letter needs to be signed and dated by the director
    • The applicant’s name must appear on all IRS tax forms
    • IRS Form 1099 is not accepted as proof of employment – refers to independent contractors, which are not funded under Great START

Family/Group Home Providers verify employment by submitting the following required documents:

  • Current parent handbook with hours and days day care is open and list of holidays and vacation time it is closed, OR
  • IRS tax form 8829 with total hours worked (line 4)

Upon review of an application and documentation submitted a Great START Specialist may request further documentation or information.

An official transcript is a transcript in a sealed envelope from the college or university. The applicant should not open this envelope. Official electronic transcripts are also accepted if sent from your college or university to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Copies of foreign evaluations may be accepted. Contact us for more information.

All levels and options on the Great START Scale that require college coursework also require a minimum number of semester hours in ECE/CD

Quarter hours will be converted to semester hours by multiplying the quarter hours by .67 to ensure the semester hour requirements for each level and option are met.

Procedure for Levels 1 through 2E:

  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 1 if they are/have the following:
    • Assistant teachers, family childcare providers:
      • 6 semester hours in Early Childhood Education (ECE)/Child Development (CD)
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 2, Options A, B, C, D, and E if they are/have the following:
    • Assistant teachers, family childcare providers:
      • Option A: Child Development Associate (CDA)
      • Option B: Certified Childcare Professional (CCP)
      • Option C: A Montessori Credential from the American Montessori Society or the Association Montessori International only
      • Option D: 12 semester hours toward a degree (9 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option E:  FCC Level 2 OR SAYD Level 2

 

Procedure for Levels 3A through 5B:

  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 3, Options A and B if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, assistant teachers:
      • Option A: 24 semester hours toward an associate degree in ECE/CD (with 9 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option B: 24 semester hours in a related field (with 9 semester hours in ECE/CD)
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 3, Option C if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, and assistant teachers:
      • CDA/CCP/Montessori Credential plus 12 semester hours toward a degree
  • Eligible applicant’s will be funded at Level 3, Option D if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, assistant teachers:
      • ECE Level 2
      • OR FCC Level 3
      • OR SAYD Level 3
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 4, Options A, B, and C if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, and assistant teachers:
      • Option A: an approved community college Early Childhood Certificate
      • Option B: 36 semester hours toward an associate degree in ECE/CD (with 12 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option C: 36 semester hours toward a degree in a related field (with 12 semester hours in ECE/CD)
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 4, Option D if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, and assistant teachers:
      • ECE Level 3
      • OR ITC Level 2
      • OR SAYD Level 4
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 5, Options A and B if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, and assistant teachers:
      • Option A: 48 semester hours toward an associate degree in ECE/CD (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option B: 48 semester hours toward an associate degree in a related field (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD)

 

Procedure for Levels 5C though 6B:

  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 5, Options C, D, and E if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers:
      • Option C:  Associates degree in a field other than ECD/CD (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option D:  60 semester hours of coursework toward an associate degree in a field other than ECE/CD (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Option E:  ITC Level 3, or FCC Level 4
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 6, Options A and B if they are/have the following:
  • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors, and assistant directors:
    • Level 6, Option A:  associate degree in ECE/CD
    • Level 6, Option B:  associate degree in any field with 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors)

 

Procedure for Levels 6C and above:

  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 6, Option C if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors, and assistant directors:
      • 60 semester hours towards a 4-year degree in a field other than ECE/CD (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD)
    • Demonstration of coursework toward a bachelor’s or associate degree will be determined by a single transcript from a 4-year institution or a combination of transcripts from 2 and 4-year institutions, with the latest completed coursework being from a 4-year institution 
    • Applicant’s official transcripts need only show coursework in progress at the 4-year institution
  • Exceptions may be granted in cases where an individual is dually enrolled or in which a course of study toward a degree at a 4-year institution occurred immediately prior to the latest community college work
    • Dual enrollment program examples:
      • National Louis University and City Colleges of Chicago
      • Northern Illinois University and Rock Valley College
  • The maximum number of hours counted from a 2-year institution will be 68 semester hours
    • When combining hours from more than one transcript the 68-hour rule applies for all courses from all 2-year institutions
    • Should a 4-year institution not accept 68 semester hours from the 2-year institution(s) PD Specialists will:
      • Calculate the 68 semester hours of courses that apply towards graduation from the 2-year institution(s)
      • Add those hours to the number of hours of coursework towards graduation at the 4-year institution
  • If a 4-year institution transfers more than 68 semester hours, the total number of transfer credits will be accepted
    • Transcript must indicate that the 4-year institution was the last institution attended, or dually enrolled in a 2-year and 4-year institution simultaneously
    • A minimum of 15 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors)
    • Directors/assistant directors may be funded at 6C with their last school attended being a 2-year institution
  • Level 6, Option D:  90 semester hours toward a 4-year degree in an unrelated field (with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD) (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors)
    • Transcript must indicate that the 4-year institution was the last institution attended, or dually enrolled in a 2-year and 4-year institution simultaneously
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 7 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors/assistant directors:
    • Level 7, Option A:  72 semester hours toward a bachelor’s degree in ECE/CD
      • A transcript from a 4-year institution with at least 1 completed course towards a bachelor’s degree AND 68 semester hours from a 2-year institution or equivalent combination to a total of 72 or more semester hours
      • Last institution attended must be a 4-year institution with a minimum of 18 semester hours in ECE/CD
      • Minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors
    • Level 7, Option B:  90 semester hours towards a bachelor’s degree in related field with 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors)
    • Level 7, Option C:  A bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field with a minimum of 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors/assistant directors)
    • Level 7, Option D:  ECE Level 4
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 8 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors, and assistant directors
      • Level 8, Option A:  A transcript from a 4-year institution with completed coursework towards a bachelor’s degree or equivalent combination of transcripts (last institution attended must be a 4-year institution) to total 90 semester hours or more (with a minimum of 24 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Level 8, Option B:  bachelor’s degree in a related field (with a minimum of 24 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Level 8, Option C:  bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field (with a minimum of 30 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Level 8, Option D: ITC Level 4, SAYD Level 5, OR IDC level 1
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 9 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors, and assistant directors
      • Level 9, Option A:  bachelor’s degree in ECE/CD
        • Degrees such as Human Development that specifically state the degree is for childcare directors/teachers may be applicable for placement at 9A at the discretion of the PD Coordinator
      • Level 9, Option B:  master’s degree in an unrelated field (with 30 semester hours in ECE/CD)
      • Level 9, Option C:  FCC Level 5
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 10 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors/assistant directors
      • Level 10, Option A:  Master’s Degree in ECE/CD
        • OR ITC Level 5
        • OR IDC Level II
        • OR ECE Level 5
      • Level 10, Option B:  IDC III
        • OR ECE Level 6
        • OR ITC Level 6

 

Great START Counselors will adjust levels/options applied for based on information provided.

No. The Great START Program wage supplements are based upon formal education (college coursework from an accredited institution) in early childhood education and child development.

Indirectly, yes! If you have earned one of the Gateways Credentials listed on the pdf Great Start Wage Supplement Scale (207 KB) . Please also see “How do I interpret the Great START Wage Supplement Scale?”

You may participate in the program as long as you continue to meet all Great START Program eligibility requirements as verified by applying every six months.

By logging into your Registry Portal, you will find your application status. Great START Specialists will request additional information, as needed, and notify you of your eligibility status via email. Be certain your email address is current and check your inbox, junk, and spam folders regularly. Applications are processed in the order received.

Applicants who work less than an average of 30 hours a week will receive wage supplement payments at a pro-rated amount. Please refer to the table below:

Great START Wage Supplement

Great START Wage Supplement
Scale Levels
Working 15–19 Hours a Week Working 20–24 Hours a Week Working 25–29 Hours a Week
1 $37.50 $75.00 $112.50
2 $56.25 $112.50 $168.75
3 $93.75 $187.50 $281.25
4 $131.25 $262.50 $393.75
5 $168.75 $337.50 $506.25
6 $206.25 $412.50 $618.75
7 $243.75 $487.50 $731.25
8 $300.00 $600.00 $900.00
9 $393.75 $787.50 $1181.25
10 $487.50 $975.00 $1462.50

Checks will be issued upon receipt of funding from IDHS.
Please keep an eye on our Facebook page to know when checks are mailed, or call our office toll free at (866) 697-8278.

Great START applicants using confirmed, false documentation will be determined ineligible for Great START and possibly other Gateways to Opportunity or INCCRRA administered programs.

Examples of false documentation include, but are not limited to:

  • Forged/false signature
  • Altered college transcript
  • Altered/false wage documentation

IDHS will make the final decision on eligibility/ineligibility.
An applicant determined ineligible due to false documentation will remain ineligible for up to a maximum of three years from the determination date.

An applicant who has submitted confirmed fraudulent documentation will be required to reimburse INCCRRA for the most recent Great START Wage Supplement received, if payment was made when the fraudulent documentation was in effect.

All Great START recipients must reapply every six months. Each application must be received by the 20th of your reapplication month. Application schedules are as follows:

Renewal Months
Original Eligibility Month Renewal Month (6-month cycle)
January July
February August
March September
April October
May November
June December

You will receive a courtesy notification prior to your renewal month.

Applicants are not automatically eligible every six months. They must continue to meet all eligibility requirements during the entire renewal and processing period.
Applicants have 60 days from the beginning of their reapplication month to submit their application.

  • Applications received within 30 days from the beginning of an applicant’s reapplication month will be processed with the same six month cycle
  • Applications received after 30 days, but within 60 days of an applicant’s reapplication month have a new six month cycle if found eligible
  • Applications received after 60 days from the beginning of an applicant’s reapplication month will be processed as a new application and will be reviewed with the current procedures
  • Any recipient who becomes ineligible then reapplies is considered a new applicant and is reviewed using the current procedures at the time of his or her new application

Applicants who complete additional college coursework or Gateways Credentials may move up on the wage supplement scale and receive a higher wage supplement. You may apply to the Gateways to Opportunity Scholarship Program to help pay for additional college coursework. Official transcripts with new completed coursework must be submitted with your application to be reviewed for a move up on the wage supplement scale and receive a higher wage supplement. A Gateways Credential must be awarded and valid for consideration by Great START.

Excelerate Program

ExceleRate Illinois helps you prepare children for success in school and in life.

It also provides standards, guidelines, resources and supports to help you make sensible changes that lead to better quality outcomes for children.