Chicago Public Schools Continues Preschool Expansion to Nearly Every City Neighborhood
11 April 2023
Additional 400-plus seats for free full-day preschool for four-year-old students in 2023-24 School Year
CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools (CPS) continues to expand early childhood learning opportunities as part of a citywide initiative to ensure every four-year-old child in the city has access to free full-day programming. CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova, Commissioner Brandie Knazze of the Department of Family Support and Services (DFSS), and CPS Chief Early Childhood Officer Leslie Mckinily visited preschool classrooms at Arnold Mireles Academy this morning as the early learning application portal opened, making preschool registration available for the 2023-24 school year.
“We know that preschool education can make a tremendous impact on children’s academic growth and well being,” said CPS Chief Education Officer Chkoumbova. “The research is clear that preschool programs help our students prepare for success in kindergarten and beyond.”
Families can now register for the District’s free full-day programming for four-year-olds and half-day programming for three- year-olds via the Chicago Early Learning website and registration portal, along with early childhood programming offered through community-based organizations approved by the Chicago Department of Family Support and Services (DFSS). Together, CPS and DFSS are offering an expanded schedule of in-person events and support services through the spring to help families bridge any technical or internet access issue and easily register for these critical early learning opportunities.
“The long-term positive effects of quality early education cannot be overstated. Our programs prepare our youngest learners for their educational journey and help make connections that will benefit them and their families for years to come,” said Commissioner Brandie Knazze of DFSS. “We are excited by the continued success and launch of the expanded early learning portal.”
Staff at CPS’ Family Resource Centers (FRCs) provide support to families during the application and verification process. The centers are conveniently located inside eight Chicago Public Library branches across the city and one CPS administrative office. Support appointments are required and include evening hours. Appointments can be made online on the Family Resource Centers website page. Additionally, during the week of April 24th, many CPS elementary schools will host open houses and pre-school registration events so that families can become more familiar with their local preschool offerings and also receive registration support. Individuals with limited internet access can also call any CPS elementary school to reserve time for in-person registration support at an elementary school.
“We want to make sure that our parent choice remains an integral part of the application process,” said Mckinily, CPS Chief of Early Childhood Education. “The fact that so many families opt to attend their neighborhood school reflects our mission to offer strong neighborhood schools and ensure they serve the needs of our families.”
The high-quality CPS free full-day preschool programs meet all federal, state and local education standards and all schools are engaged in continuous quality improvement. Preschool for All programs are awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze Circle of Quality, as determined by a state-approved independent review. Eighty one percent of CPS preschool programs meet the Gold Circle of Quality or the highest standards for quality in three areas: learning environment and teaching, administration, and training and education. The remaining 19 percent of schools are on the journey to earning Gold with 15 percent already at the second level, or Silver status, and four percent at the Bronze level.
"CPS continues to provide the supports our families need the most," said Mireles Academy principal Evelyn Randle-Robbins. "At Mireles, there's a strong need for additional educational options allowing work flexibility for our parents. The expansion of early childhood education District-wide will assist in making sure our school community has as many resources as possible."
Over the past several years, the District has expanded the number of classrooms providing free full-day preschool to nearly all 77 Chicago communities with the aim to provide better educational and social outcomes for all children, especially those with the greatest needs. The District’s 20th Day enrollment data shows nearly 1,000 (973) more preschoolers were served in the past year, with 16,403 three and four-year-olds enrolled in CPS schools as of the 20th day of the 2022-23 school year compared to 15,430 preschoolers at the same time the previous school year. The majority of those students - more than 12,000 - were four-year-olds in the District’s full-day program.
CPS currently offers expanded preschool classes in 68 of the 77 neighborhoods. By the first day of school on August 21, 2023, the District will have expanded to 75 neighborhoods by adding 21 classrooms within 11 elementary schools for a total of 420 additional available seats.
Enrollment data shows the majority - nearly 80 percent - of Pre-K students who attended their neighborhood school remained at that same neighborhood school for kindergarten, offering students and families a smooth transition into the elementary school years. Overall, 60 percent of students attend preschool and kindergarten at the same school - regardless of whether it is their neighborhood school.
CPS works in collaboration with other city agencies and organizations that provide services. 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). All programs are 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. Community-based programs have programming 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. 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.
Application Process and Eligibility
- Children who are four years old on or before September 1, 2023, are eligible for admittance into any CPS full-day and half-day preschool program. Children who are three years old on or before September 1, 2023 are eligible for CPS half-day programs.
- Families are encouraged to take their time and review all options. The initial application period runs through May 2, and enrollment is based on our District’s ongoing commitment to equity.
- Students will be prioritized for a Pre-k placement based on several factors, including income level, diverse learning needs, their proximity to a school, and whether or not they have siblings enrolled at that school.
- Foster children and children in temporary living situations will also be given enrollment preference.
- Applicants with older siblings already enrolled at a school and students who live near their desired CPS school are also given priority.
- No preschool application will ask for proof of citizenship.
- Families who apply by May 2nd, will receive an offer on May 19. Families who apply after May 2 will receive their placements after May 19. Beginning May 19, any offers submitted will be responded to with an offer by the next business day.
- Parents can apply online at www.chicagoearlylearning.org, by dialing the Chicago Early Learning (CEL) Family Support Hotline (312) 229-1690, or visiting a CPS school or one of the Family Resource Centers. In addition, families can receive registration support at several special events hosted in April across the city.