Progressive Caucus demands universal early childhood care

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The City Council’s Progressive Caucus on Tuesday joined forces with working parents and community groups to demand “truly universal” day care and pre-school for all Chicago children under the age of five.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks a good game about expanding early childhood education, the reality is that scores of working parents can’t find the “accessible, affordable and quality” care for their young children needed to give a parent peace of mind, advocates said.

At a City Hall news conference, parents and teachers told horror stories about long waiting lists, rigid eligibility rules that disqualify needy kids and about sky-high fees that working parents cannot afford to pay.

They also beefed about a “proliferation of half-day slots” that make it impossible for parents to hold down full-time jobs, let alone make the extra money they desperately need by working overtime.

They even sought to dramatize their claims by bringing their children along and setting up a “functioning pre-school classroom on the floor” near the podium on the second floor of City Hall.

“To see these moms have to make the choices that they do is horrific. When I have to turn a parent away, I feel terrible. Because that mom is forced maybe to let a teenager watch their child instead of someone” who’s qualified, said Joslyn Ewing, an 18-year veteran child-care worker.

“You come out of school and try to transition into the workforce. But because of the way the qualifications are, you have to be either working or at school at that time to continue services. These moms are forced to make decisions they shouldn’t have to. Universal child-care would take away a lot of that.”

Nicole Ivory, a parent of three, said, “It’s very hard for me to work a full-time job when there is no child-care or affordable child-care —when child-care co-payments are so high. It’s very sad for me…. My older children are in school full-time, but they only apply two hours for child care” for her two-year-old, she said.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the Progressive Caucus plans to turn up the heat on Emanuel by introducing a resolution demanding “high-quality, universal early care and education programs” for all children from birth until the age of five. That includes “full-day, pre-school and high-quality universal child care and wrap-around services.” Employees providing those services would be paid a minimum wage of $15-an-hour.

The coalition that includes SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Action Now and the Chicago Teachers Union want the city to pay for the massive expansion by enacting, what it calls “progressive revenue measures.”

They include a financial transaction tax on LaSalle Street exchanges championed by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), both of whom are considering running for mayor against Emanuel.

The funding package would also include “re-distributing surplus funds” generated by tax-increment-financing districts and renegotiatingwhat advocates call “toxic interest rate swaps” with major banks.

The mayor’s office responded to Tuesday’s push for more by welcoming Fioretti on the pre-school bandwagon.

“The mayor is happy that SEIU and Ald. Fioretti are supporting his efforts to expand quality pre-school options for our children and their families,” the mayor’s office said in an e-mailed statement.

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every four-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year. Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

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