More than 200 agencies have applied for early childhood funding under a new process requiring schools and community organizations alike to compete for preschool and infant education dollars. 

CPS principals have until Nov. 2 to apply, but other agencies’ applications were due on Oct. 1 and are already being rated.

When that is done – around the end of the year – CPS and city staff will decide which programs get funding and how much, according to neighborhood need. Final decisions are expected by February or March.

Principals who could lose their programs, or who hope to start new ones, will have to wait in uncertainty. Belding Elementary Principal Heather Yutzy says that she has no idea whether she’ll be able to keep her preschool program.

When she asked for more information, she says, CPS told her neighborhoods with more high-need students could be prioritized. “It is hard on our end to know – do we stand the chance?” she said.

More than 500 principals and teachers have so far attended information sessions, according to material that Beth Mascitti-Miller, chief early childhood education officer in the district, distributed at an Oct. 22 Illinois Early Learning Council meeting.

At the meeting, Maria Whelan of Illinois Action for Children asked if Chicago has a minimum quality standard for the programs they would fund. It appears the city and CPS do not.

Mascitti-Miller explained that the district doesn’t yet know what the quality of the applications will be. “We are going to be looking at whether we need to provide additional supports, if there isn’t a high-quality provider in (a high-need) area,” Mascitti-Miller said.

Brynn Seibert of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana – a union that represents some Chicago preschool teachers – asked at the meeting if there would be a chance for community input. Mascitti-Miller replied by saying that decisions will be based on data from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, which has already engaged community members in assessing the need for preschool and early childhood slots in each area of the city.

A total of 161 agencies have submitted applications to CPS to offer Preschool for All or Prevention Initiative (state birth-to-3) programs. Of those, 39 would be new to CPS early childhood funding. Both CPS and external reviewers will rate the applications.

In addition, 56 agencies have applied to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services to offer Head Start or Early Head Start slots. All but nine have worked with the city before.

The Head Start applications turned in to the city are being reviewed and scored by contractors at Western Kentucky University, a process that is expected to wrap up before Thanksgiving. Then the federal government will review and approve them. Finally, applications turned into and the city will be prioritized according to neighborhood need.

So far, the city and the district are on track to get more than enough applications. The agencies that applied to CPS asked for 13,291 preschool spots – nearly double the number of children currently served by community agencies through district funding.

Another 14,900 children were in Preschool for All programs at CPS schools as of June, according to the district. It remains to be seen how many principals will turn in applications.

Harlee Till, the principal at Swift Elementary, says she thinks the application process for schools is “pretty straightforward.”

“I guess they are looking for a little more equity across the district in the program,” Till said. She thinks that is going to be a good thing.

She’s not worried about losing her school’s preschool program because of the number of high-need students – many of whom are learning English.

“It’s a new process and it’s work that has to be done, but everybody who has preschool already knows the impact of it, and we can all absolutely explain the need for it,” Till says. “Those that don’t already have it should be able to apply.”

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