Preschool providers, parents and even some young children are accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot of decimating community-based programs that have educated and cared for children in their neighborhoods for decades.
On Tuesday, about 200 teachers, activists and parents held a march and rally at City Hall, just weeks before some of the programs will lose needed funding on June 30. They said Lightfoot promised to meet with them, but that meeting had “fallen through the cracks” in the midst of the pandemic.
Now some of them might have to close down. The city has yet to provide information on which centers were defunded, but said it provided transition money for those programs and consulting services to help them prepare for the loss of revenue. Many of them appear to be in low-income neighborhoods on the South and West sides of the city.
The providers say they are more than just preschool programs; they are places where families are supported. Julnar Shelby-Brown, who is on the board of Trinity Preschool on the South Side, said she was offended by Lightfoot saying every child will have “seat” in a preschool.
“Let me explain to you the difference between her seat and our seat,” she said. “Our seat, our children are safe. Our seat, our children are loved, and they get well-rounded meals and they are taught to communicate and resolve issues with their words. Your seat doesn’t have support for families. We don’t send them back to chaos. We build up families.”
These centers are caught between two major changes in early childhood education in Chicago. The school district is in the midst of implementing universal preschool for 4-year-olds, which means they must attract more younger children to keep enrollment up.
Also, the city implemented a new, more stringent process for deciding which private child care centers get funded including smaller classrooms and higher teacher salaries. But according to service providers, complying with those requirements, without a solid financial footing, is unrealistic.
Many of the preschools are based in community organizations that also provide services for teens and adults. Losing early childhood funding will hurt all their programs, activists said.
Parents, teachers and children arrived Tuesday morning on several buses holding signs that read: “What about kids?” and “Our Children Matter.”
“Good quality [early childhood programs] are in high demand on the South Side,” said Jessica Tenorio, a parent and teacher at Kiddy Kare Preschool and Kindergarten in Brighton Park. “Sadly, I am one of the teachers who could be losing her job. I won’t have a daycare for my child or an income.”
Attorney James Taylor filed a lawsuit last month on behalf of West Austin Child Development Center. He spoke at the rally, alleging the process was unfair and shrouded in mystery. Taylor complains centers have not been allowed to see the rubric to grade service providers.
Also, Chicago preschools are in an unusual situation. The city doles out public funds coming from the state for early childhood education programs, including preschool programs in Chicago Public Schools.
“Why is the city awarding funds to Chicago providers, while at the same time competing with them for the very same funds?” Taylor asked.
Adriana Cardona-Maguigad is an education reporter at WBEZ.