Smart Start Workforce Grants



In February 2023, Governor JB Pritzker announced his plans for Smart Start Illinois, a multi-year plan to provide every child with access to preschool, to increase funding for child care providers to raise wages and classroom quality, and to reach more vulnerable families with early support. Smart Start Illinois is a big next step in making Illinois the best place to raise children with a clear and ongoing commitment to children, families, teachers, and child care providers.

Through Smart Start Illinois, the state is poised to invest in Smart Start Workforce Grants (SSWG) that will help providers raise wages for personnel. The proposed SSWG program was informed by robust engagement of those working in and utilizing the system. View the pdf Community Engagement Report (2.46 MB) ( pdf Spanish (2.47 MB) ) to learn more about the community engagement effort. 

These draft parameters are based on the Governor’s FY 25 Budget proposal and are subject to final appropriation by the General Assembly.

Use the quick links below to quickly find the Smart Start Workforce grant information.
Grant Eligibility | Comparison: Transition Grants vs. Workforce Grants | Grant Award Amount | Wage Floor
Grant Schedule | How to Prepare | Questions

pdf Visit this webpage in Spanish (1.03 MB)

What are Smart Start Workforce Grants?

Smart Start Workforce Grants offer child care programs stable, ongoing funds that they need to cover costs and invest in quality staff without burdening families by raising tuition or Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) co-pays. Eligible programs receive consistent funding in advance, and funds will cover the cost of higher wages and operating a classroom. Programs receiving these grants will be required to pay classroom staff a wage floor. These competitive wages will help to attract more staff and meet parents’ needs at a rate that they can afford.

Smart Start Workforce Grants (SSWG) build on previous investments in the child care field in Illinois, including the Child Care Restoration Grants,  Strengthen and Grow Child Care Grants, and Smart Start Transition Grants, currently in effect through September 2024. Over the past three years, Illinois has transitioned from programs designed to stabilize the field during a pandemic to programs designed to support investments in the child care workforce. The next step -- Smart Start Workforce Grants – will directly raise provider wages across the field.

Governor Pritzker's proposed investment in Smart Start Workforce Grants requires appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly. 

Smart Start Workforce Grants, contingent upon state appropriations, will be available for programs:

  • licensed as a child care center, child care home, or group child care home. 

  • licensed and caring for children by the first of the month prior to the opening of applications. For example, if the application opens on July 1, 2024, programs must be licensed, open, and caring for children by June 1, 2024. 

  • that operate as a full-day, full-year program offering eight consecutive hours of care per day, five days per week, 47 weeks per year.

  • For centers - at least 15% of the program’s current licensed capacity (at time of application) enrolled and funded by CCAP in any month in the year prior to submitting an application (e.g., any one month between January 2023 –date of application).

  • For homes - care for at least 1 child and for Group Homes 2 children enrolled and funded by CCAP in any month in the year prior to submitting an application (e.g., any one month between January 2023 – the date of application). 

  • other eligibility requirements may apply.     

See the chart below for how the Smart Start Workforce Grants* compare to Smart Start Transition Grants.

*Draft parameters are subject to appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.

Grant Award Amount

Smart Start Workforce Grants will support center-based programs to increase wages for assistant teachers, teachers, and other program staff. Eligible programs will receive a grant award amount quarterly.  
*Draft parameters are subject to appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.

Center-based programs will be eligible for the following grant awards for each classroom: 

Smart Start Workforce Grants will support family child care providers to increase their wages and their assistants’ wages.  Family child care homes and group homes will be eligible for a base award of $9,000 annually and additional funding if they have an assistant, based on the number of hours assistant(s) work. 
*Draft parameters are subject to appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.

Wage Floor - Center-based program

Programs that participate in SSWG will be required to pay teachers and assistant teachers in grant-funded classrooms a wage floor. A wage floor is a minimum required wage but is different from the legally required minimum wage. For SSWG, the wage floor is a requirement that programs agree to when they accept the grant.  The wage floor varies by region, type of program, and role. 
*Draft parameters are subject to appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.



Wage Floor - Family Child Care based program

For Family and Group Child Care Homes, the provider/owner will have discretion in the use of funds. However, if the provider employs an assistant, they must meet the required wage floor and recommend dedicating at least a percentage of funds to the provider/owner’s compensation.

Anticipated Smart Start Workforce Grant Schedule*

*Draft parameters are subject to appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.

Application Round 1: Covering October 2024 – December 2024 expenses (Applications available July 1, 2024 – July 31, 2024)

Application Round 2: Covering January 2025 – March 2025 expenses (Applications available October 1, 2024 – October 31, 2024)

Application Round 3: Covering April 2025 – June 2025 expenses (Applications available January 2, 2025 – January 31, 2025)

How to Prepare:

Funding for Smart Start Workforce Grants is currently pending approval of the Illinois General Assembly, but you can begin to prepare today for Smart Start Workforce Grants. Use the checklist below to ensure you have all the required documentation ready to go. 

The following items are required to complete a new Smart Start Workforce Grant application:

  • Access to the Gateways Registry Director Portal
  • Unique Entity ID
  • Completed W9
  • For centers, corporations, partnerships, and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) – a current and valid Illinois Secretary of State Certificate of Good Standing
  • For centers only – a classroom map, noting what rooms are used as classrooms
  • Consider how your program manages payroll and set up a plan for how the program will report payroll documentation to prove the wage floor requirements are met.  This will be required quarterly.
  • Review wages in your program and determine the amount needed to increase wages to at least the wage floor. 
  • Review your classroom enrollment, making sure that each classroom will meet the enrollment minimums set for Smart Start Workforce Classrooms.  
  • Make sure all reporting for any previous grants is complete and accepted. This will include Child Care Restoration Grants, Child Care Workforce Bonus, Strengthen and Grow Child Care Grants (Rounds 1-6), and Smart Start Transition Grants. 

pdf Smart Start Workforce Grants Flyer (1.02 MB)  ( pdf Spanish (1.03 MB) )

Have Questions? 

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) will administer the Smart Start Workforce Grants. INCCRRA will provide technical assistance answering technical questions and helping with the application process through its website and via email. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions. 

New to Smart Start Workforce Grants is local technical assistance through the local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) System. This will provide local grant experts to provide technical assistance, and answer questions.  Find your local expert here (coming soon).  


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