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City to expand full-day pre-kindergarten program

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday that 1,000 new free, full-day pre-kindergarten spots will be created by the fall of 2017 for low-income families.

The move will bring the number of non-tuition full-day pre-K spots the city will offer to low-income families to about 17,000. When Emanuel entered office, about 10,000 such spots were available.

“The single most important investment we can make in the future of Chicago is in the children of Chicago and their education,” Emanuel said in an emailed statement. “Every child in every neighborhood deserves a quality education and that must begin in their earliest years. These changes to our system will ensure that our early learners can enroll in a quality program in their neighborhood that meets the needs of their family — making pre-Kindergarten programming an option for every child.”

Research shows that children who attend full-day pre-K are twice as likely to start kindergarten at the proper reading level as students who attend half-day pre-K or no preschool, said Michael Negron, Emanuel’s chief of policy.

It’s a “critically important” time for young students, he said.

The expansion will not be cheap. A year of full time pre-K costs about $12,000 per student.

Negron said recent Chicago Public Schools’ central office reductions will account for about $1 million in additional funding for the expanded program.

Under the new plan, CPS will stick to running pre-K programs at schools and hand control of 7,000 pre-K spots it has been running out of community agencies to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. The city department oversees more than 60 percent of the full-day pre-K programs at community buildings such as local YMCAs.

The consolidation will streamline operations and is expected to free up at least $5 million by centralizing purchasing and reducing redundant management-level positions, Negron said.

“A lot of the same functions were split between the two agencies and we found redundancies,” Negron said. “We’re making sure we aren’t tying up dollars in bureaucracy that are better spent in programming.”

The pre-K programs are funded largely through a combination of state and federal grants, Negron said.

DFSS runs a variety of services to support the city’s most vulnerable, ranging from the homeless to victims of domestic abuse.

The decision to consolidate was made after the Civic Consulting Alliance — a nonprofit organization that does pro bono consulting for the city, county and state — reviewed how the pre-K programs were administered and suggested that the city centralize operations.

About 100 of the new pre-K spots will be offered this fall, and 900 more are expected to be offered when school begins in fall 2017. The new spots will be divided between community and school run programs.

The changes also will be accompanied by a new website that will allow parents to see if there is a pre-K program in their neighborhood. The online application also will be universal, replacing an application process that varied between programs that partnered with different community organizations.

“It will be easier for social workers or librarians to walk parents through it,” Negron said, adding that parents will be saved the hassle of physically taking paperwork to different locations.

“It will be a one-stop shop,” he said.