It's an undertaking of historic proportions for Chicago Public Schools, when its deficit soars into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"This opportunity cannot be reserved just for some," said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. "It is an entitlement for all of our children."
Byrd-Bennett was joined by her boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, touring one the kindergarten classrooms. Thirty thousand incoming 5-year-olds will learn seven hours a day compared to three to four hours in years past.
"Chicago Public Schools system in the past did not put our kids first," Emanuel said.
The mayor and Byrd-Bennett claim the virtually bankrupt district, which closed 49 schools and laid off nearly 3000 teachers and staff this summer--made $140 million in central office cuts to extend cps kindergarten programs:
"Some of the things we were doing in Central Office should be done at the school level where the rubber meets the road and children and teachers interface," Byrd-Bennett.
"When you start early, it's always better for children," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Lewis supports full-day kindergarten, but she says recent CPS layoffs threaten the rest of the system where a longer school day for grades 1-12 was imposed last year.
"I'm getting calls from principals who are telling me they have no way to staff the longer school day," Lewis said.
As for cutting the "central office," it has happened under CEOs Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, even Jean Claude Brizard. Lewis theorized why there's still fat to cut.
"Here are a few jobs over here that are gone. But that doesn't mean that other jobs are not created," she said.
But the mayor said this time, money saved in administrative costs is earmarked for full-day kindergarten.
"Yes, prior administrations did make cuts to Central Office," Emanuel said. "But they didn't make the investment."
Education experts say the more time kids spend in pre-school, including kindergarten. The higher their test scores and the less likely they are to dropout in later years.
The mayor and Byrd-Bennett call this not only an investment in the kids' future but also the district because the more kids in school help the revenue situation.