Father and Child Playing

Opportunities for Strengthened Early Childhood Inclusion

This report outlines opportunities to improve collaboration between school districts and community partners to support young children with disabilities.

Executive Summary

In March 2021, Start Early received a short-term exploratory grant from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities to gather insights into how to better support the inclusion of young children with disabilities across school and community settings by engaging school district leaders and their management organizations. From March through August 2021, Start Early conducted key informant interviews and focus groups with school management associations and school district leaders, including principals, superintendents, school board members, and early childhood and early childhood special education coordinators to gain an understanding of what Local Education Agencies (LEAs) would need to be able to provide services to all preschool aged children with IEPs regardless of setting, with a focus on outside-of-school settings.

This report outlines key findings from these focus groups and potential next steps for policy makers and systems leaders to build LEA and state capacity to leverage new federal resources on inclusion. This work will inform early childhood systems efforts in Illinois including the Early Childhood Transformation’s implementation of the Funding Commission recommendations, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood’s needs assessment and strategic planning process funded through the federal Preschool Development Grant, and the work that is anticipated under the Build Back Better Act.

Policy Team & Collaborators


This report was prepared thanks to many individuals and organizations that generously provided time and expertise, research, consultation and other supports. Special thanks to: Debra Pacchiano, Isabel Farrar, Ann Kremer, Emily Ropars, focus group participants and key informants.

In partnership with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. This project was supported, in part by grant number CFDA 93.630, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.