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CPS and Department of Family and Support Services Unveil New Family-Friendly Portal as Applications Open Today for Chicago Early Learning Programs

19 April 2022

Free Full-Day and Half-Day Early Childhood Learning Programs for all Chicago children from birth to five

CPS Office of Communications

Phone: 773-553-1620
Twitter: @chipubschools
Facebook: chicagopublicschools

CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Department of Family Support and Services (DFSS) on Tuesday celebrated their collaborative efforts to streamline program administration across city agencies and ensure equitable access to high-quality Early Childhood Learning (ECL) programming for families of young children. The collaborative effort led to an updated Chicago Early Learning application portal that expands early learning options to prenatal mothers and families with children from zero to five years of age.

"Through this new, family-friendly portal for Chicago Early Learning programs, we are preparing children and their families for success—providing clear and helpful support for parents and guardians to make the best decision on their children's education," said Mayor Lightfoot. "This effort folds into CPS's and DFSS's larger goal to ensure our young learners have the resources and tools they need to thrive academically and socially. I am proud of this collaborative work, and encourage parents and guardians to take advantage of this opportunity to build a stronger future for their families."

CEO Pedro Martinez, CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova, and Deputy Commissioner Cerathel Burgess-Burnett of the Department of Family Support and Services (DFSS) visited preschool classrooms at Wendell Smith Elementary School Tuesday morning as the early learning application portal opened, making preschool registration available for the 2022-23 school year.

“I hope that our Chicago families take advantage of this expanded opportunity to support their children’s growth and well-being,”  said CEO Martinez. “Research has told us again and again that early childhood education provides students with the critical foundation for future success in kindergarten and beyond.”

Preschool programming like the classrooms at Smith Elementary are now available in 64 of the 77 Chicago communities with a goal of reaching every neighborhood by 2023.  Regardless of a family’s address, every four-year-old in the city now has access to free preschool.

“This is a great day for early learning equity in Chicago,” said Commissioner Brandie Knazze of DFSS. “We are excited to partner with CPS as we expand our early learning platform for parents with children birth to five, allowing them the chance to find programs that are best suited for their families.”

With the ultimate goal of ensuring availability for every parent seeking an ECE opportunity in Chicago, the system prioritizes parent choice and allows parents to make the best decision for their families. Parents can apply online at or by dialing the Chicago Early Learning (CEL) hotline at (312) 229-1690. Individuals with limited internet access can also apply in person at a school, an early learning center, or one of the city’s six Community Service Centers.

“Access to quality early learning programs is a key component to ensuring our youngest students start their educational journey successfully.” said Alderman Michael Scott, Jr., Chairman of the Education and Child Development Committee. “I applaud CPS and DFSS for their efforts to make the application process easier for parents so that families will be able to take advantage of accessible early learning opportunities that meet the needs of their children.”

The DFSS Children Services Division (CSD) manages a comprehensive, citywide system of community-based Chicago Early Learning  programs for children, including Early Head Start (EHS), Head Start, Prevention Initiative and Doula Specialized Services for prenatal mothers, and Preschool for All (PFA). This year, all programs will be available via the CEL portal. Community-based organizations are ready to serve families from birth to five with full-day, comprehensive services.

Chicago Early Learning programs provide educational and social development activities that prepare the District’s youngest learners for kindergarten. Children who are four years old on or before September 1, 2022, are eligible for admittance into any CPS full-day and half-day preschool program, while the District works toward its goal of ensuring that such programming is easily accessible across the city’s 77 communities. For the 2022-23 school year, the District plans to add 29 classrooms at six schools. To meet the District’s Universal PreK vision to provide free and accessible programs throughout Chicago, CPS plans to add more than 50 classrooms by the fall of 2023. Children who are three years old on or before September 1, 2022, are eligible for CPS half-day programs.

Chicago Early Learning preschool programs meet rigorous federal, state, and local standards. Community-based programs have options for pregnant moms, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers up to age four. Additional eligibility criteria may apply to community-based programs offering services throughout the city. Admission is prioritized according to eligibility and available space. Low-income families, students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, foster children, etc. will be given priority in placement. Applicants with older siblings already enrolled at a school and students who live near the CPS school are also given priority.  Assistance may be available for community-based programs through the Child Care Assistance Program; visit  Illinois Action for Children’s website.

The Find and Compare Tool helps parents view programs with specific early childhood accreditations and see each program’s quality rating. Parents can also visit CPS’ Programs Page, which includes detailed information about types of programs and identifying characteristics of high-quality early learning. No preschool application will ask for proof of citizenship.

CPS also provides access to Family Resource Centers for all Chicago families seeking more information or in-person support from staff on preschool enrollment and applications. Families can book an appointment here or call the Chicago Early Learning Hotline at (312) 229-1690. Individual schools and Community-Based Organizations can also provide assistance.


Chicago Public Schools serves 330,000 students in 600 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.

DFSS works with community partners to connect Chicago residents and families to resources that build stability, support their well-being, and empower them to thrive. As the 5th largest City agency and one of the largest social service funders and administrators in Chicago, DFSS provides direct services at six Community Service Centers, six Regional Senior Centers, and through partnerships with 360 community-based organizations across the city. In total, DFSS services and funding supports over 400,000 vulnerable Chicagoans each year.

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