For the Record: Full-day kindergarten

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Despite a huge budget deficit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have boasted of committing $15 million to expand full-day kindergarten.

Emanuel emphasized the point at a recent press conference, noting that while other cities are cutting their programs, “in Chicago, 6,000 more children will be in full-day kindergarten.”

But close to half of over 90 schools where the district initially said it is expanding full-day programs have offered it for years, according to a Catalyst Chicago telephone survey that found at least 41 schools already had full-day slots.

CPS spokespeople now say that the actual increase is about 3,600 students. Initially, officials included slots at low-income Title I schools that were paying for full-day programs on their own but will now have the cost picked up by the district.

All elementary schools in the district should now offer full-day kindergarten, as long as space permits, CPS officials say.

 “A few schools were running only half-day programs due to space issues, and in most cases these schools are looking at implementing 4-hour programs,” CPS spokeswoman Ana Vargas said in an email.

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Catalyst Chicago surveyed schools that received new full-day kindergarten funding and found that…

27 schools started or expanded full-day programs

41 schools already had full-day classes but will now have the programs paid for by the district*

2 schools still have half-day programs and were not aware of plans to switch

3 schools have new 4-hour kindergarten classes

18 schools did not respond to the survey

*CPS officials told Catalyst that of the schools that received funding, 37 already had full-day classes.

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An uncertain future

Despite the expansion of district funding, a majority of the district’s 482 elementary schools – about 56 percent – are still paying for full-day programs using their discretionary money. That means these schools could lose full-day slots if the district cannot provide money next year and schools decide they cannot afford it on their own.

Before this year, about 130 schools already had full-day classes covered by the district. CPS expanded that number by looking at two groups of schools:

-Title I schools paying for full-day classes using discretionary money. That added up to 2,350 spots at 37 schools, according to CPS.

-All other schools that did not have full-day kindergarten. These are the schools that actually got new full-day programs – altogether, about 3,600 spots at 56 schools, according to CPS.

The complicated process underscores a larger point: Unlike other big cities, like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, CPS has no specific policy to cover the cost of full-day kindergarten for all schools (though it is now covering the cost for all Title I schools.)

Plus, historical data on which schools have which type of kindergarten program is sketchy. CPS has not been able to provide a comprehensive list of half-day, 4-hour and full-day programs by school, despite a long-standing Freedom of Information Act request.

Even so, the new slots represent major progress for those schools that previously had to spend their own discretionary money to provide the type of kindergarten program that is now considered standard by education experts.