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Full-day pre-K should be priority in Emanuel’s 2nd term: panel

A team tasked with examining Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second-term priorities wants him to put together a plan to offer full-day pre-kindergarten for every low-income 4-year-old in Chicago.

It’s not clear how the financially strained Chicago Public Schools might pay for that expansion, which is estimated in the group’s new report to cost as much as $174 million in programming per year.

But Sarah Pang, the mayor’s second-term transition chair, said the concept is crucial to Chicagoans looking for pre-K programs, quality jobs and everything in between.

Pang, who co-chaired the transition team Emanuel assembled when he first took office, led the second-term priorities committee he appointed about a week after securing his re-election in April. She said she plans to deliver the group’s final product to the mayor during a cabinet meeting Monday.

The panel’s report examines three main areas of focus for the mayor in his second term: expanding public engagement, fostering economic growth in the neighborhoods and moving toward universal pre-K. Pang said voters’ comments during this year’s mayoral campaign reinforced those priorities.

“They were very blunt with their feedback and very constructive and very passionate,” Pang said, “and it was a big benefit to the mayor.”

The committee said City Hall should increase its presence in the neighborhoods; build a neighborhood ambassador network; and strengthen its engagement with Chicago youth.

On the economic front, the committee said the city should re-imagine its planned manufacturing districts for modern development; increase transparency of tax-increment financing; and make sure those TIF dollars are invested in the neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the panel said there are 39,000 government-subsidized pre-K seats in Chicago, 54 percent of which are half-day programs. The city’s programs reach 70 percent of children living at 185 percent of the federal poverty level, it said. But it exists as a fragmented system overseen by two departments that should instead focus on creating parent-centric policies and processes, according to the committee.

Only one-third of low-income 4-year-olds receive a full-day of pre-K, including programs that include or coordinate with child care services, the committee said.