Teachers Union calls for full-day universal preschool

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Teachers Union is calling for the city to adopt a universal preschool system that provides a full day of early care and education for children under the age of 5. They say that under the current system, children are at risk of losing access to educational programs that would "foster cognitive learning, academic achievement, social skills and emotional development."

The Teacher's Union noted that state funding for early childhood education has fallen 25 percent since 2009, and said preschool enrollment rates among minorities, in particular, continue to slide.

The Union likened a universal full-day preschool program to Chicago Public Schools' free breakfast and lunch program, calling for a community response to support working and nonworking families in need of full-day preschool.

"The current preschool system of half-day slots doesn't work for parents who need reliable, full-day programs to allow them to work to support their families," said CTU president Karen Lewis. "The families left out are precisely those who need this programming the most: low-income parents with few resources who are trying to lift up their families and get ahead through steady full-time employment."

They recommended several steps the current system can take to make full-day universal preschool work, including expanding current half-day programs to full-day for 3- and 4-year-olds, expanding early learning programs for infants and toddlers who receive child care through the Illinois Child Care Assistance program and exploring immediate and long-term progressive revenue options.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett responded to the unions call, saying, "Since he took office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has committed to providing families in every neighborhood with access to early childhood education programs. In 2011, Chicago Public Schools and the Department of Family and Support Services offered pre-k opportunities for 35,400 youth. That number has grown to more than 37,000, and the Mayor has several initiatives to expand pre-k to all low-income 4-year-olds and dramatically improve quality."

CPS also said that nearly 24,000 students were enrolled in school-based early childhood education programs in 2013 and an estimated 1,500 additional 4-year-old students will be added due to Mayor Emanuel's expansion initiative. CPS said it is working with Governor Pat Quinn to engage in the federal preschool expansion grant for increased full-day opportunities.

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