PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday September 9th, 2014, 3:32pm

Chicago Aldermen Join Call For Universal, Full-Day Preschool; Education Issues Light Up Guv's Race (VIDEO)

Progress Illinois takes a look at the push for universal, full-day preschool and early child care in Chicago as well as education issues that have popped up in the race for Illinois governor.

Chicago aldermen with the Progressive Reform Caucus plan to introduce a resolution at Wednesday's council meeting calling for a universal system that provides a full day of early care and education to all children in the city under the age of five.

The resolution is backed by a coalition of parents, child care providers and community and labor organizations with the new "Bright Future Chicago" campaign, which launched late last month.

Bright Future Chicago members, who say the city's day care and early education system is "profoundly broken," joined Alds. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Nicholas Sposato (36th) at City Hall on Tuesday to announce the resolution, which also requests that all early child care workers be paid a minimum hourly wage of at least $15.

Since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office in 2011, he has moved to expand early childhood education programs and preschool opportunities for children. Emanuel has also set a goal to expand pre-k to all 4 year-old children in the city.

Hellen Juarez, a parent and leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said the mayor is pushing for more half-day early childhood education slots, while the Bright Future Chicago campaign is requesting full-day programming for all children under the age of five.

Bright Future Chicago organizers say many working families in the city face difficulties accessing affordable day care and early education programs for their young children.

"Parents and teachers alike are frustrated with long waiting lists, burdensome eligibility barriers, unreasonable parent fees and the proliferation of half-day slots — which don’t accommodate full-day work schedules," the campaign said in a release. "The lack of wrap-around and afterschool care and learning programs presents an additional barrier."

Juarez said there are no pre-k slots open at the local schools in Brighton Park.

"Unfortunately, the Brighton Park community has the highest need of child care in pre-k in Chicago," she said. "Parents and children in our community are not the only ones in need. How are we supposed to work if we can't find affordable day care for our children or a full-day pre-k for our children? "

More than 150,000 Chicago children up to age four do not have access to a full day of publicly-funded early care and learning, according to the draft resolution. 

The mayor "claims to have established access to universal preschool for low-income students, but the city has, in fact, seen a net decline in enrollment and access during the Emanuel administration's tenure," the resolution reads.

As part of the resolution, Progressive Reform Caucus aldermen will call for a city council hearing on the status of early childhood education and day care programs in the city, Fioretti said.

Organizers, meanwhile, could not say how much it would cost to implement the universal system that includes full-day preschool, early child care and wrap-around services.

However, those with the campaign say the proposed expansion of early childhood programming could be paid for in part by using city tax increment financing (TIF) surplus funds, renegotiating toxic interest-rate swaps with big banks and implementing a financial transaction tax, among other "progressive" revenue proposals.

Sawyer stressed that a universal early care and preschool system would be an investment beneficial not only to children and parents, but also to the city overall.

"It's not spending, it's investing," the alderman said. "When we make (children) more productive, when we make the parents more productive, society as a whole becomes more productive."

Here's more from Sawyer and Waguespack: 

Education Issues Light Up Illinois Governor's Race

Education has also become a hot topic in the race for Illinois governor.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner released his education plan on Monday, which among other things calls for increased funding for early childhood learning through college. The proposal, however, lacks specifics on where he would find the revenue needed to boost education spending, if elected. As part of his plan, Rauner wants to also change the state's school funding formula, curb teacher tenure and implement merit pay systems for educators, among other reforms.

Rauner, meanwhile, has advocated for a property tax freeze and wants to rollback the 2011 temporary income tax hike, a move critics say would significantly hurt the budgets of Illinois schools. The Winnetka venture capitalist said his proposed reforms could be paid for in part by making cuts to other areas of government and broadening the sales tax on services.

“Unfortunately, Pat Quinn is failing the children, parents and teachers of Illinois,” Rauner said in a statement announcing his education blueprint. “Our plan provides Illinoisans with a cradle to career approach that will strengthen education in Illinois and give all children here a brighter future.”

Rauner and Gov. Pat Quinn jointly met with the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Tuesday, and Rauner was pressed on how exactly he would increase education spending without raising income or property taxes.

"We close corporate welfare loopholes, we reform our tax code, we cut wasteful spending, we put in regulatory changes to grow the economy," Rauner said as examples of his proposed budget fixes. "The only reason they call it balanced some years is because they count borrowing as revenue."

Rauner was asked whether he is asking Illinoisans to take him at his word regarding the soundness of his budget and education plans.

"What you've got to know about me is I set a plan ... We've got to have the goals," the Republican candidate responded. "Pat Quinn's goals are to raise taxes. He is part of the same system that's failed for decades ... He, Blagojevich and Madigan, that got us into this mess. I'm gonna get us out."

Quinn, meanwhile, called Rauner's budget proposals "clear as mud," adding that they would "savage" education.

"You don’t understand arithmetic," the governor said.

Paul Vallas, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, also slammed Rauner's education blueprint, saying on Monday that it "includes a lot of promises, but predictably fails to pay for any of them."

"In reality, Rauner's plan will put an additional one million dollars in his own pocket while laying off 1 in 6 teachers by blowing a $4 billion hole in Illinois' education budget," Vallas said in a statement. "This is reckless and irresponsible. The outcome of Rauner's plan - larger classroom sizes, higher property taxes and cuts up and down the line to education - will represent disaster for our public schools. Education is for everyone - not just the elite. This is just another example of Mr. Rauner looking out for people like himself at the expense of the working families of Illinois.”

Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which has endorsed Quinn in his re-election bid, also blasted Rauner's proposal in a statement:

Bruce Rauner’s blueprint reads like a Greatest Hits of failed education experiments that penalize good teachers instead of addressing the fact that Illinois schools are some of the worst funded in the nation.

When it comes to what ails us, teacher tenure and merit pay are red herrings. There is no evidence that giving teachers due process negatively impacts student achievement, but research overwhelmingly shows the devastating effects of poverty and under funding schools. As a teacher, I saw firsthand the heartbreaking impact on a student when a parent lost a job or struggled to pay the bills.

If Rauner was really interested in our students, he wouldn’t advocate eliminating the minimum wage.

If Rauner was really interested in our students, he wouldn’t propose budget ideas that would cut billions out of public education resulting in teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and higher property taxes.

We want great teachers for all of our students, and if the goal is to improve education, we don’t need to pit teachers and parents against each other. We need the resources to make success possible.

Additionally, the Quinn campaign pointed out that Rauner's wife, Diana, has in the past "lauded Governor Quinn's leadership on early childhood and praised his work to give every child a better education in Illinois."

During an event at Educare of Chicago in July of 2010, Diana said, “Governor Quinn, you’ve been a stalwart supporter of quality early education because you know learning begins at birth and even in these tough economic times, investing in children will reap valuable economic dividends in the years to come. Governor, on behalf of infants, children and families of Illinois, we thank you."

Stay tuned and check back with Progress Illinois on our full coverage of tomorrow's Chicago City Council meeting.


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