Emanuel promises free, universal pre-K for every child in Chicago

Michelle Gallardo Image
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Emanuel promises free pre-K for every child in Chicago
Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his plan to provide free, universal, all-day pre-K for every 4-year-old child in Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's a lofty promise: free, universal, all-day pre-K for every 4-year-old child in Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made that commitment Wednesday as he unveiled his plan at Truman College, one of five City Colleges that offer full-day pre-school programs for young children.

"It's like three years, they're in school already. They already know their routines, they know how to be independent, go to the bathroom on their own, wash their hands. They know how to clean up after themselves, they're all ready for kindergarten," said Cristine Martinez, a pre-K teacher at Truman College.

The new entitlement is expected to cost $175 million. Emanuel said a change in the school funding formula approved by the General Assembly last year will cover most of the costs, as long as those monies continue to be approved. At present, preschool in Chicago is free for the poorest families, while others pay on a sliding scale, up to $14,000 dollars a year. But because space is limited and admission is mostly based on need, many middle-income parents are shut out entirely.

"The first group of kids that will get all-day, full-day pre-K, 4-years-old, are children of parents who work, make $45,000 or less, and that will be the first installment," Emanuel said.

A student at Truman College, Isabel Lopez is able to enroll her 3-year-old son Vincent in the full-day program. It's meant he's learning important skills, while she's able to finish her degree.

"It's meant the world to me right now. I'm finishing my internship and my bachelor's and I'm going into nursing school. If I didn't have this program here, there is no way I would be able to pursue my career," Lopez said.

CPS will use existing funds to cover the initial rollout this fall. After that, if the district gets the extra money it wants to from the state, then the plan is for every 4-year-old in Chicago to have access to full time pre-K by 2021.