Free preschool for all 4-year-olds coming to Chicago, mayor says

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to roll out free full-day preschool for all 4-year-olds in Chicago within four years, during an event Wednesday at Truman College.

The preschool classes will start this fall for families making $45,000 a year or less. According to the mayor's office, children from these "most in-need" families will have access to an additional 3,700 full-day seats for 4-year-olds at CPS schools next year.

Emanuel stopped by Truman College’s Head Start program to meet with students Wednesday ahead of his big announcement.

"It will be done in a progressive fashion, because if you’re poor you have Head Start, if you’re wealthy you can advocate for your children, if you work you’re left out in the cold," Emanuel said. "We are going to work up the economic latter to make sure kids of working parents get full-day pre-K."

The goal is to bridge the education gap in Chicago by starting early, he said. Research shows getting kids in school early and keeping them there longer is critical for success later in life.  Within four years, the mayor hopes to open up preschool to all 4-year-olds.

"It teaches them at such a young age to be socially emotional with each other, how to interact with each other, and ... then going into kindergarten it’s second nature to them," preschool teacher Christine Martinex said.

Universal preschool comes with a hefty price tag: $175 million over four years. The mayor says he expects funding to come from the state.

"We believe that this is the most important thing we can do to continue to build on the progress CPS has been making, so my message is that there is no catch," CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said.

Illinois lawmakers still need to pass the state's budget bill in order to secure funding, which may happen sometime this week.

"I am positive Chicago Public Schools and other enrollments are going to see a big boom to their enrollment because access matters, and when access is in their community, everyone benefits within these programs," Kate Connor of Truman College said.