The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is calling for a universal, full day of preschool for children under the age of 5. CTU notes that state-level funding for early childhood education has been slashed by 25 percent since 2009, "leaving hundreds of children without access to half-day, or full-day programs."
Teachers union officials say reductions in state funding for early childhood education are a contributing factor in the declining preschool enrollment rates for minority children.
"According to a report from Voices for Illinois Children, about 58 percent of white children and 55 percent of black children attend some sort of preschool, yet only 40 percent of Hispanic children are enrolled," reads the union's statement. "Also children in poverty are underrepresented in preschool enrollment, while 24 percent of children under 5 are in poverty, only 19% enrolled in preschool are in poverty."
Citing Chicago Public Schools' response to high poverty rates with free brakfast and lunch for all students, CTU says the district should continue their attempts to address the obstacles facing low-income famlies by installing a universal, full day of preschool programming for children under the age of 5.
“The current preschool system of half-day slots doesn't work for parents who need reliable, full-day programs to allow them to work to support their families,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “The families left out are precisely those who need this programming the most--low-income parents with few resources who are trying to lift up their families and get ahead through steady full-time employment.”
CTU is recommending the following changes be made to CPS' early childhood education programs:
- Expand existing half-day early learning programs (like Preschool for All and Head Start) to a full-day for 3 and 4-year-olds.
- Expand early learning programs for infants and toddlers from birth to 3 –years-old who receive child care through the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program.
- Ensure transparency and accountability in the use of the mayor’s Children’s Fund. Millions of dollars have been set aside from speed camera revenues, but community members are left guessing when it comes to how funds are used within Chicago.
- Explore both immediate and long-term progressive revenue options to support expanded early care and education—such as reclaiming money lost to banks by renegotiating toxic swaps, millionaires’ tax, financial transactions tax, etc.
- Require teachers in community-based early childhood programs to hold the same credentials and earn the same wage as preschool teachers in Chicago Public Schools. This move will create good jobs in Chicago’s communities and will reduce teacher and caregiver turnover, which means more stability for young children and families.