ExceleRate Pilot


  • Pay Scales and Parity


Launched in March 2020 as part of Illinois’ broader ExceleRate Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), the 3-year ExceleRate Pilot Project sought to test new approaches to quality improvement, including a “compensation first” strategy for promoting retention and enhancing program quality. 38 programs participated in the pilot project; all programs were in rural counties and served a relatively high proportion of subsidy-eligible children (at least 40%). Participating programs were required and supported to pay a minimum baseline salary according to a salary scale based on educators’ and directors’ educational attainment and role.

In FY2022, minimum compensation ranged from $12.25 per hour (for a teacher assistant with no credential) to $20.50 per hour (for an employee with a Level III Illinois Director Credential).

This pilot was implemented through a partnership between the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and the Illinois Department of Human Services using federal Preschool Development Grant Birth-Five dollars. It will continue in the future under the “Smart Start Quality Support Program (SSQS)” name.


ExceleRate Illinois. (n.d.). Pilot Project.

ExceleRate Illinois. (2022). FY22 Salary Scale.

Connections to Key Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) Findings:

The early education workforce is the foundation upon which all daily work and any expansion and quality improvement efforts rest. Research suggests that states and cities should invest in the workforce across all early education setting types, focusing on enhancing educators’ professional learning, compensation, and workplace conditions.

Findings from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H) show:

  • Early educators play a critical role in supporting the well-being of young children and families across setting types.
  • Yet their pay, benefits, and other professional supports are often inadequate in light of the job demands and their cost of living.
Learn More about ELS@H Findings

Learn more about Illinois

Context matters. Visit the Illinois profile page to learn more about its demographics, political landscape, early education programs, early education workforce, and funding sources and streams.

Visit the Illinois Profile Here
  • The state population is 12,582,032
  • The percentage of children under 6 with all available parents in the workforce is 70%
  • The rural percentage is 13.1%