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Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Early education shakeup: Programs to lose teachers, students

As the city shifts preschool seats to better programs in needier areas, at least nine community agencies that are losing their funding say they will likely be forced to replace their state-certified preschool teachers with child care staff who hold lesser credentials--associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees without teaching licenses, or no degrees at all.

Several center directors contacted by Catalyst Chicago say they have not yet received information about helping students transition to new programs. It’s unclear what, if anything, the district will do. One center director whose agency serves dozens of special-needs students said she got a clear message from a meeting with CPS this week: “I have to do my own plans.”

The deadline for applying to early childhood programs in CPS schools is less than a month away, and a number of agencies contacted by Catalyst Chicago on Tuesday said they had not been notified of the competition’s results.

The agencies are losing funding as part of CPS and the city’s “Ready to Learn” preschool funding competition.

In all, 41 agencies that were previously in part of CPS' Community Partnership Program will no longer be funded by the district. Of those, 17 will still receive some preschool funding through the city, but many will see a net loss of seats. Another 13 agencies did not apply for funding, and 11 agencies applied but did not receive any funds. 

Here’s a map of agencies and schools that lost or gained funding.

The city says it is using $10 million of new funding to offer 2,300 additional preschool seats, but no specifics have been released yet about where those seats will be.



Excluding children, paring services

Some of the families in the affected agencies pay “co-payments” for the program, with the rest of the cost subsidized through state Child Care Assistance Program dollars as well as CPS funds. But where families are not eligible for the assistance – for instance, if a parent is not working or in school during the time the program is operating – the agency relies on CPS for its funding.

With their CPS funding gone, agencies may have to exclude children who are not eligible for child care assistance, and pare down services to keep the classes running with funding that has been cut by more than half. 

Sharon Berkley, site administrator at Children’s Garden Child Development Center, says that most of the 20 preschool children in her program this year wouldn’t have been able to attend without CPS dollars. “We have lost a lot of jobs in this community, and many of our parents we serve don’t work,” she says. Without jobs, parents are only eligible for child care assistance on an intermittent basis, when they are attending class for GEDs or participating in job training.

Berkley says she will have to replace her current teachers with staff who have associate’s degrees or less. “That compromises the quality of the program,” she says.

Cachet Cook, director of First Start Child Care Academy, says her agency – which serves 38 children ages birth to 5 with CPS money – is in a similar position. Paperwork delays can leave families waiting for months to be approved for child care assistance, which pays for just half the children in her program.

The children whose seats are paid for by CPS will probably lose their spots. But for those whose seats are paid for by the state, a change in teachers could be coming.

“With the CPS program, we are required to have a Type 04 [certified] teacher. There is no way we can afford him without the funding from the city,” she says. She expects the infant-toddler teacher will also be laid off or have to take a pay cut.

Special needs students in limbo?

Other preschool programs are concerned about placement for special education students, as well as for those who are on the waiting list for special services because of the backlog of children in preschool who need to be evaluated. 

Brenda Owens, director of Kenyatta’s Day Care Center, says she has not heard anything about transition plans for three special education students who receive services from CPS, three students who are waiting to be evaluated, and an additional 14 students whose slots are paid for by CPS.

Michelle Redd, owner of Building Blocks Learning Academy in Englewood, says she hasn’t heard about transition plans for her students either. Thirteen of the 60 preschoolers enrolled at her agency are entitled to receive special services.

Though Building Blocks lost its funding, the city announced plans to open a 370-seat birth-to-5 center in Englewood, saying there are no providers who met quality standards.

Redd is puzzled by this, noting that children in her program have earned high scores on the district’s kindergarten readiness assessment. Magnet schools and other local elementary schools, Redd says, recruit students and parents from the preschool in hopes of finding high achievers.

A Community Partnership Program staff member told Redd that they were “baffled” as to why she failed to make the cut. Redd plans to take her case to local aldermen and the mayor’s staff.

If Building Blocks’ funding isn’t restored, she says, she will likely have to lay off certified teachers and replace them with teachers who have taken just a few college credits of early childhood development courses.

Looking to donations to fill gaps

At Ezzard Charles School Day Care Center, which has two locations in Auburn Gresham that serves 44 children from infants to age 3 and 40 preschool students, director Eldora Davis says she was “devastated” at losing funding. The school currently has about 25 students on the waiting list.

State child care funds help support seats for 80 percent of her students, but Davis says that the CPS dollars she is losing “make up for almost half of my budget. I’d like to know, if we didn’t receive it -- who did?”

The school has the second-highest possible rating in the state’s four-tiered Quality Rating System, and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “We have always maintained compliance with what they asked us to do,” Davis says.

Staff members have gone back to school to meet CPS requirements, she adds. All of the school’s preschool teachers are state certified, and last spring, six staff received associate’s degrees and two received bachelor’s degrees.

Davis is hoping that donors can help her fill in the missing money until she can reapply for city funding down the road.

Pastor Bruce Ray, executive director of Lutheran Day Nursery on the Northwest Side, says his agency will seek donations to support scholarships for the five 3-year-olds who are in CPS-funded slots.

The agency did not reapply to be part of Ready to Learn, Ray says.

“Over the years we have become more concerned with how academic [the CPS program] has become,” he says. “The expectations in terms of reading readiness [and] kindergarten readiness were not really following developmental guidelines. We feel that especially in the areas of reading readiness, [CPS assessments] were expecting boys in particular to do much more than what they were developmentally ready to do.”

This story has been updated with additional information about the number of programs that did not apply for preschool funds, as well as the number of programs that lost CPS funding but are still receiving city dollars.


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