On this page, Catalyst Chicago has compiled news and resources related to early learning, including media coverage; information on current critical issues; a status report on program funding and participation; links to early learning organizations and research; links to resources for parents and teachers; and photo slide shows illustrating best practices for the classroom.
Alignment: Experts say that the system of early learning, from infant-toddler programs to primary grades, should be aligned so that children’s learning builds on what they have already been taught. Tools to accomplish this goal include kindergarten readiness assessments in both preschool and kindergarten, and practices to ease children’s transition from preschool to kindergarten.
Chicago Ready to Learn: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s signature early childhood initiative aims to give money to the best preschools and make sure families in the highest-need neighborhoods have access to programs. It also centralized how the city distributes federal and state funding. In 2013, dozens of community-based programs lost out on funding, though all but a handful of school-based programs continued to receive money. In 2014, Emanuel announced a new goal to provide pre-school to all 4-year-olds whose families qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Bilingual preschool: Since fall 2010, state-funded preschools run by school districts have been required to implement bilingual education programs. A lack of qualified bilingual teachers is one of the hurdles schools face, which explains why, in August 2014, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted to delay a requirement that preschool teachers obtain additional qualifications in order to teach children who don’t speak English.
Latino communities: Latino children are less likely to attend preschool than black or white children, in part because schools in their communities are more likely to be overcrowded and have less space to offer programs. After a multi-year legislative effort, funds for early childhood construction are now flowing to Chicago Public Schools and several Chicago agencies that recently won construction grants to build new centers or rehabilitate existing ones.
Fewer children in preschool: Budget cuts and rising costs have led to a loss of slots in state pre-kindergarten programs. Enrollment peaked at over 95,000 in fiscal year 2009 and but had fallen to about 70,000 in fiscal year 2014.Visit the state board’s Preschool for All website for more information.
Home visiting: Illinois receives money from the federal Department of Health and Human Services for maternal, infant and early childhood visiting programs. Visit the state’s Department of Human Services website for more information.
Rating systems: In 2014, Illinois began using a new rating system to distinguish quality licensed early care and education programs. ExceleRate Illinois uses a series of categories called “circles” to indicate which programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning. Visit ExceleRate Illinois’ website to learn more or to find a quality program. Separately, the City of Chicago has its own online portal to help parents search for early childhood programs.
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These programs provide birth-to-age-3 health and education services in Chicago and Illinois.
Early Head Start served about 2,250 children and pregnant women in Chicago and about 5,300 in Illinois in the fiscal year 2014-14. In Chicago, 4 percent of children were homeless; statewide, about 6 percent of children served were homeless. Meanwhile 17 percent of Chicago families and 16 percent of Illinois families received public assistance. Funding is provided for home visiting, center-based programs and family child care programs.
Healthy Families Illinois is a home visiting program that works with expectant and new parents who may be at risk for problems in parenting, including child abuse or neglect. In fiscal year 2011-12, 964 Chicago families and 3,084 families throughout Illinois took part. State funding was $8.4 million.
Prevention Initiative programs served children in 377 classrooms and 16,938 children through home visits statewide in fiscal year 2013. The initiative is funded by an “infant-toddler set aside,” a set percentage the state’s Early Childhood Block Grant that goes to birth-to-3 programs. The state is gradually increasing the percentage of funds set aside for this purpose to 20 percent by the year 2015.
These programs provide pre-k health and education services in Chicago and Illinois.
State preschool programs served over 23,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Chicago schools and community agencies and 70,000 children statewide in fiscal year 2014 school year. In response to state budget cuts, Mayor Rahm Emanuel provided additional city funding to ensure seats for 2,000 more children in fall 2013. And in the summer 2014, Emanuel said he would find funding to provide pre-school to an additional 2,500 low-income children in Chicago.
The Early Childhood Block Grant, most of which is used for preschool funding, was about $290 million in 2014, compared with a high of $380.2 million in fiscal year 2009. CPS receives 37 percent of the block grant.
Head Start offered about 19,200 slots in Chicago and nearly 35,000 in Illinois at the start of fiscal year 2013-14. Money is provided for center-based programs, family child care settings and home visiting.
In fall 2011, CPS announced that it would expand district funding to provide full-day kindergarten for schools that were not already paying for it on their own. But many schools did not take the district up on its offer because of barriers such as space. In the 2012-13 school year, 33 schools still did not offer full-day kindergarten and another 60 schools that offered both full-day and half-day. (The state does not require districts to offer full-day programs but does provide extra money for those that do.)
Starting in the fall of 2013, the district began offering full-day programs across the board, at an additional cost of $15.5 million. “CPS will no longer offer half-day kindergarten as a matter of policy. All classrooms will be full-day,” noted a district spokesperson. More than 30,000 children were enrolled in kindergarten in Chicago during the 2013-2014 school year.