Preschool

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Are there enough seats in preschool?

Enrollment up, waiting list full

As researchers continue extolling the merits of early childhood education, the public has demanded more preschool options and politicians have delivered funds to create them. Preschool enrollment is up by 73 percent to more than 31,200 children, with the largest number of new seats coming from community centers that subcontract with the school district.

Yet, there remains unmet demand. In September, some 3,500 applications were on file with the district’s preschool waiting list, and early childhood education advocates estimate that many more eligible families have not even applied.

Half of kindergarteners now enrolled in a Chicago public school attended preschool, and 31 percent of them were in full-day programs. Admission to publicly funded preschools is generally restricted to 4-year olds because of space limitations.

However, this year, some 9,800 children, 30 percent of those enrolled, are in their second year of preschool, after having started at 3.

Enrollment
1996

2005

State pre-K
11,806

12,389

Community centers
1,361

11,000

Head Start
1,360

6,036

CPS child-parent centers
3,487

1,383
Tuition-based preschool*
NA

400
TOTAL

18,014

31,208
*Tuition-based preschools, created in 2001, are targeted to middle-income families, who pay out of pocket. Public funds offset some of the costs.

Preschool demographics

The mostly disadvantaged students in CPS preschools mirror closely the system’s overall student population, serving mostly African-Americans, then Latinos. Most of the children in state pre-kindergarten live in two-parent homes.