Schools may have to pay for pre-k aides

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To help pay for 300 new prekindergarten classrooms, the School Reform Board wants to require schools to pay for prekindergarten teacher aides out of their own discretionary funds.

The plan, which would apply to new and existing programs, may violate state Chapter 1 regulations against “supplanting,” or shifting required program costs from one set of funds to state Chapter 1 funds, which are to be used only for supplementary programs. The proposal “sounds like supplanting to me,” says Fred Hess, executive director of the Chicago Panel on School Policy.

Hess recalls a similar situation several years ago, when the board began requiring high schools to pay for their own teacher aides even though the aides were required by union contract. “We wrote it up as an example of supplanting, but nothing happened.”

Currently, the board pays the full cost of state prekindergarten programs, using funds earmarked for that purpose by the state Board of Education. The state board doesn’t require prekindergartens to have aides, but does set standards—an adult-to-child ratio of no more than 1-to-10 and a maximum of 20 children per class— that virtually force schools to hire them. State guidelines also require aides to have at least 30 semester hours of academic credit in early childhood education.

The board “would still pay the major costs—for teachers, supplies and furniture,” in both new and old classrooms, says Budget Director David Agazzi. Salaries for aides average about $22,000 per year, he said. Agazzi says the board’s plan does not constitute supplanting because “we’re using the money to expand a program, not cut anything from it.”