Mayor expands full-day kindergarten to all Chicago Public Schools

February 25, 2013

All kindergarteners in Chicago will go to school for the whole day, rather than the state-mandated half-day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Monday.

Chicago Public Schools is planning to increase funding for kindergarten by $15 million dollars next year by cutting costs in central office, reducing overtime for engineers, and renegotiating heat and electrical contracts.

Emanuel said full day kindergarten and early childhood education is a priority for him.

“When you talk to the teachers, every one of them will tell you the different between what a child can get in three hours versus seven hours,” Emanuel said. “Identifying the letters, identifying their numbers, the shapes, the colors, how the numbers go together. And that is essential so when a child gets to first grade they are ready to do first grade work.”

“This is my long term commitment to making sure our children at every age… are starting out ready,” Emanuel said.

The additional $15 million dollars will bring the total amount spent by CPS on full-day kindergarten to $140 million, according to a district spokesman. 

Cuffe Math and Science Academy Principal Lakita Reed said she used discretionary money to fund full day kindergarten for the past two years.  But next year she'll be able to spend the school's discretionary money elsewhere.

“We had to choose between music and art basically, so we gave up art, now we’ve gotten that back,” Reed said.

Jeanine Saflarski teaches kindergarten at Cuffe and said Monday that she always felt rushed teaching the half-day program.

“I would basically come in, do one lesson reading, maybe one lesson math,” Saflarski said. “It felt like I would pretty much spin around turn around, ‘ok it’s time to go home.’”

Illinois only mandates half-day kindergarten, but so do many other states. Only 10 states require a full-day program.

It’s something many early childhood advocates argue should change.

“By starting early, we are improving the life chances of these children so that they will be more successful, that they will save money for society over time, they will be more productive citizens,” said Samuel J. Meisels, president of Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused on child development.

Diana Rauner, president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an organization focused on supporting at-risk children from birth to age 5, agreed with Meisels, but said she's not sure a mandate is necessary.

“I think that the most important thing is that we provide funding for full day kindergarten,” Rauner said. 

Meisels said full-day kindergarten creates a structure for kids to succeed, “but what happens inside that structure still is going to need a lot of attention.”