FAQ

Great START (Strategy to Attract and Retain Teachers) is a wage supplement program that rewards eligible early care and education and school-age care practitioners for receiving higher education and for remaining at their current place of employment. Great START was introduced into legislation in June 2000 and 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 an eligible program:

  • Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) licensed.
  • IDCFS licensed for a minimum of one full year.
  • Full-day (being open for eight consecutive hours or more serving children).
  • Full-year (caring for children at least 47 weeks per year).

Practitioners must also be working in one of the following positions in IDCFS licensed programs:

  • Family Child Care Provider, Family Child Care Assistant, Group Home Provider, Group Home Assistant
  • Center Staff: Director, Assistant Director, Teacher, Assistant Teacher, School-Age Teacher, School-Age Assistant
  • Care for Illinois children.
  • Work in an eligible program.
  • Have been employed at current center or home, for a minimum of one year.
  • Work a minimum average of 15 hours or more per week on a continuous employment basis (includes work and benefit time).
  • Earn $15.00 per hour or less and $31,200.00 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 8 consecutive hours (full day) or more caring for the same group of children at least 47 weeks (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
  • Two half-day programs do not meet the eligibility requirement of operating full day (8 consecutive hours).
  • Applicants must be regularly scheduled and working in a full day/full year classroom. 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 this program serves kindergarten children for half days during the school year, then the total hours of operation at that site during the school year shall be taken into consideration for meeting the 8 consecutive hour minimum requirement.
    • Hours calculated would include hours open before school and hours that kindergarten children arrive back in program for half-day program until program closes.
  • 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.
  • If applicant works at one site location then moves to another site location for the Summer, both sites must have at least 1 classroom that is operating full day/full year.
  • Applicants who work in one classroom, but move to another classroom within the same program shall be eligible.
    • 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 in a program serving children of teen  mothers operating a minimum of a full school year.

Upon review of an application and documentation submitted the Great Start Counselor 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. Great START rewards those who have attained education above IDCFS licensing standards and remain employed at the same program.

Center Based or Family Based practitioners may verify employment by submitting the following:

  • 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 at 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
  • 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
    • For self-employed providers, IRS tax forms, 8829, Schedule C or C-EZ, or K1 are required to verify a family/group child care center is in business. IRS form S-Corporation is acceptable to verify income for a family/group provider if he/she does not complete IRS forms 8829 and Schedule C or C-EZ. An applicant’s name must appear on all IRS tax forms

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, but only from the following evaluation services found at http://www.naces.org/members.html. Applicants who submit a copy of a transcript will be contacted to submit an official transcript.

  • Applications will be held in pending status, for up to 60 days, until the official transcript is received.
  • Renewal applicants have 60 days from the beginning of the renewal month to submit official transcripts, when requested, to maintain eligibility.
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 4 Option A with an Early Childhood Certificate.
    • At least 24 semester hours of an Early Childhood Certificate must be in Early Childhood Education
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 5 Option C and Option D if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers
    • Level 5 Option D = 60 semester hours of coursework toward a degree (last coursework completed at 2-year institution) with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD
    • Level 5 Option C = Have an Associate’s Degree in a field other than ECD/CD with 15 semester hours in ECE/CD
    • Applicants who hold both an Associate’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree with a minimum of 15 ECE/CD semester hours will be funded at Level 5C
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 6 if they are/ have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors
    • Level 6 Option A = Associate’s Degree in ECE/CD
    • Level 6 Option B = Associate’s Degree in any field with 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors)
    • Level 6 Option C = 60 semester hours towards a 4-year degree
      • Demonstration of coursework toward a Bachelor’s degree shall 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 being from a 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
      • The maximum number of hours counted from a 2-year institution shall 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 the number of hours accepted by the 4-year institution from the 2- year institution(s) applied toward graduation be greater than 68 semester hours, the number shall be accepted
      • At this level an applicant must have a minimum of 15 semester hours in ECE/CD (minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors)
      • Directors may be funded at 6C with their last school attended being a 2-year institution and a minimum of 21 semester hours in ECE/CD.
    • Level 6 Option E = Illinois Directors Credential I
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 7 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors
    • Level 7 Option A = 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 total 72 or more semester hours (last institution attended must be a 4-year institution) with a minimum of 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (21 hours in ECE/CD for Directors)
    • Level 7 Option C = A Bachelor’s Degree in an unrelated field with a minimum of 18 semester hours in ECE/CD (21 semester hours in ECE/CD for Directors)
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 8 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, 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 any field with a minimum of 24 semester hours in ECE/CD
    • Level 8, Option D = Illinois Directors Credential II
  • Eligible applicants will be funded at Level 9 if they are/have the following:
    • Family/group home providers, teachers, assistant teachers, directors
    • Level 9 Option A = Bachelor’s Degree in ECE/CD
    • Level 9 Option B = Master’s Degree in any field with a minimum of 30 semester hours in ECE/CD

Please contact a Great START Counselor toll-free at (866) 697-8278 with any questions regarding the Great START Wage Supplement Scale.

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.

You may participate in the program as long as you continue to meet all Great START Program eligibility requirements.

You will receive an email notification of eligibility. New applications are processed within 15 working days of receipt, and renewal applications are processed within 20 working days of receipt. Applications are processed in the order received.
A reconsideration process is outlined in determination emails. Applicants have 60 days after notification of the original decision, based on the date of the notification email, in which to file a written appeal to the Great START Professional Development Coordinator.

Applicants who work less than an average of 30 hours a week will receive wage supplement payments at a prorated amount. Please refer to the table below for the prorated wage supplement amounts.

Great START Wage Supplement
Scale Levels Working 15–19 Hours a WeekWorking 20–24 Hours a WeekWorking 25–29 Hours a Week

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

Upon receipt of funding from IDHS, checks will be issued.
To check the status of your Great START Wage Supplement you can check the Gateways to Opportunity Facebook page or call our office toll-free at 866-697-8278.

Great START applicants using confirmed, false documentation shall 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 shall make the final decision on eligibility/ineligibility.

An applicant determined ineligible due to false documentation shall remain ineligible for up to a maximum of 3 years from the determination date.

“Renewals” are applications to the Great START Wage Supplement Program, which occur every six months following initial eligibility to the program. Your Renewal Application must be received by the 20th of your renewal month. Renewal 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 an e-mail or mailed notification 15 days prior to your renewal month.

Renewals are not “automatic.” Applicants must continue to meet all eligibility requirements during the entire renewal and processing period.

Great START renewal applicants have 60 days from the beginning of their renewal month to submit their renewal application.

  • Renewal applications received within 30 days from the beginning of an applicant’s renewal month will be processed with the same renewal cycle
  • Renewal applications received after 30 days, but within 60 days of an applicant’s renewal month will be processed as a renewal and their renewal cycle will be changed to the current processing month
  • Renewal applications received after 60 days from the beginning of an applicant’s renewal month will be processed as a new application

Applicants who complete additional college coursework 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 must be submitted at time of renewal application to move up on the wage supplement scale and receive a higher wage supplement.

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