When elementary school principals receive their school budgets on
Monday, many will find out that their Preschool for All programs will
close at the end of the current school year.
When elementary school principals receive school budgets on Monday, many will find out that their Preschool for All programs will close at the end of the current school year.
“If you don’t have 93 percent of students on free and reduced lunch, and you don’t have a large proportion of English Language Learners, the probability is that you’re closed,” says Barbara Bowman, head of the CPS Office of Early Childhood Education.
At this morning’s School Board meeting, Bowman and others received a foretaste of the parent outrage that is likely on its way.
Numerous parents and community members turned up to protest the planned closure of a preschool program at Barbara Vick Early Childhood and Family Center, known for integrating special education students (almost 42 percent of those it serves) into classrooms with other students. Because of its high number of special-needs students, the school was notified in advance of other programs.
Matthew O’Shea, an assistant to 19th Ward Alderman Ginger Rugai, acknowledged that many families served by the school – where about 25 percent of students are low-income, compared to 86 percent districtwide – could afford other options.
But “preschool at Barbara Vick is the only time many of these families will be part of the public school system,” O’Shea argued. “If parents are willing to subsidize the rest of their children’s education, it is unfair to pull the only benefit they receive from CPS.”
Although the district is prioritizing the poorest neighborhoods with its preschool cuts, the 93 percent free and reduced lunch cutoff indicates that high-need schools will likely lose their preschool programs, as well. Popular magnet schools, which often draw a more affluent student body and have long preschool waiting lists, may also be at risk of losing their programs.
Altogether, Preschool for All serves about 14,000 students in the district’s elementary schools, and more in classrooms at community-based organizations. It is not clear how many seats will be gone in the fall. The proposed district budget for next year includes $34 million in cuts to the Office of Early Childhood Education, about 30 percent of its current budget.
Preschool programs across the state are already reeling from a 10 percent cut that took effect at the start of this school year. While CPS used discretionary funds to make up the money, it wasn’t enough to keep up with rising costs. About 1,200 Preschool for All seats were lost.
This year, the district used federal dollars to convert the lost Preschool for All classes into Head Start sites. But re-using that solution seems unlikely. The proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2011 cuts Head Start and Early Head Start by more than a billion dollars compared to fiscal year 2010 levels (which were boosted by stimulus funds).
An uncertain state funding situation is adding to the problem. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for over $54 million in early childhood education cuts – a 16 percent cut over this year’s levels, and a 24 percent cut over fiscal year 2009 funding – if legislators do not sign off on a tax increase.
High-demand schools that could lose their Preschool for All programs
The following schools had some of the longest waiting lists in the city as of Dec. 31, 2009. But because fewer than 93 percent of their students receive free or reduced-price lunches, they could be at risk of losing their programs.
Schools with more English learners than the districtwide average are indicated with an asterisk. CPS may keep programs with the most ELLs open, but it is not clear what the district’s cutoff will be.
Pershing East Elementary
Oriole Park Elementary
Murray Elementary Language Academy
Disney II Magnet Elementary
LaSalle II Magnet School*
Peirce International Studies Elementary*
NOTES: For this analysis, Catalyst Chicago examined a list of roughly 35 schools that had the longest Preschool for All waiting lists in the district (at least 25 students) at the end of 2009.