Mayor Richard M. Daley began the first day of school today by challenging city and school officials to provide citywide access to early childhood education over the next five years for every parent and guardian who wants it.
“Just as I challenged our schools two years ago to improve the literacy of all our children, today I challenge the Department of Human Services and the Chicago Public Schools to develop a plan to get every child between the ages of three and five, whose parent wants it, into an early education program for at least part of the day,” Daley said.
The Mayor spoke at the new National Teachers Academy of Chicago at 23rd and Federal streets. The academy is a community elementary school where college students will learn to teach under the guidance of master teachers from the Chicago Public Schools who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards or are working toward certification.
The Academy was built, in part, with funds from Gov. George H. Ryan’s Illinois FIRST program. Ryan attended today’s news conference and presented Chicago Public Schools officials with a check for $97,771,649, representing 20 percent of this year’s state funding for school construction grants.
Daley asked city and school leaders to begin implementing a detailed year-by-year plan for citywide early childhood education within one year. The plan should include a program for expanding opportunities in schools, along with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, he said.
The value of early childhood education is clear, the Mayor said.
“When children spend their very early years in a positive environment that emphasizes education, they perform better all through school and are less likely to end up living a life of violence,” he said.
“Early childhood education helps close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. It saves tax dollars in the long run, because it helps prevent costly problems later in life, including crime and unemployment.
“And when we help working parents educate and care for their young children, they’re more likely to remain in the workforce. Strong working families are the backbone of Chicago.”
Daley said the Early Child Care and Education Plan he announced two years ago has expanded the number of opportunities for young children.
“We promised to have 5,000 more licensed, full-day, full-year child care spaces for low-income children by the end of next year, and we have already added 4,878, which places us well ahead of schedule in meeting that goal,” he said.
The Mayor noted that the Chicago Public Schools, community centers and private homes have a total of more than 17,000 Head Start spaces, including 1,000 new spaces that were created in the public schools this year.
Yet, he said, “every year, some slots have remained unfilled because too many parents are unaware of these opportunities or don’t appreciate their value.”
Right now, he said, there are 1,400 Head Start openings in community centers around the city, and he encouraged parents to enroll their children soon. They can call 1-800-239-9957 for information.
“I believe many more parents would enroll their children in early childhood education if given the right opportunities and information,” Daley said.
He estimated that as many as 10,000 to 20,000 additional children “could be enrolled in a quality pre-school program if their parents knew they were available and were motivated to take advantage of them.”
Daley said he will convene a conference of early education providers, working parents and researchers to discuss issues relating to the five-year plan. The conference, entitled “For Chicago’s Children, an Early Childhood Education,” will take place in October.
Participants will discuss:
- How to ensure citywide access to early childhood education f