More leaders of community-based child care centers are speaking out since they’ve just learned they’re losing funding as Chicago moves to universal preschool. Mayor Emanuel and Lightfoot said that wouldn't happen.
Chicago Public Schools are phasing in 4-year-old preschool starting next week, but what about the providers that have received federal and state grant money to operate for years and years? Many of them have just learned they will not receive funding, so they're concerned they may close.
West Austin Child Development Center provides preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as childcare for infants, but as the city of Chicago moves to providing universal pre-k, the center is not sure how it will operate.
"We're going to lose 118 children out of our program and it’s very important to note this is one of the highest at risk for failure communities in Chicago, Austin area,” said child care advocate Tamera Fair.
The Department of Family and Support Services, which announced new 5-year federal and state grants within the last two weeks, cut the funding of dozens of community-based organizations and more than 20 archdiocese preschool programs. They do not meet the new salary demand of paying preschool teachers $47,000 a year.
"It's not affordable,” said another child care advocate, Anita Andrews-Hutchinson. “Simply we are not reimbursed at the rate that is affordable to be able to pay those types of high salaries. We would love to.”
"I think parents are being duped into something that they’re not aware that they’re about to be facing," said State. Rep Lashawn Ford.
Ford says changes must be made to protect community-based organizations.
"What the state should be doing is making sure that we invest in quality gold standard programs in communities, that’s what we should be doing, not destroying things that have worked,” Ford said.
Community-based programs note they offer child care from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which is unavailable at CPS. The city of Chicago insists this just means parents must make a choice.
“It was important for us to partner with CPS and to be a part of this strong system they’re trying to build, so this idea of kindergarten readiness they’re trying to build is a huge motivating factor," commissioner Department of Family and Support Services Lisa Morrison said.
“It's a great idea, it’s a mammoth of a great idea, but it has to be done with time and consideration to make sure that it’s done well,” Andrews-Hutchinson added.
The funding changes begin Dec. 1, but parents are likely not going to wait until then as they say they are likely to head to CPS next week and those community-based organizations that offer more than preschool, may shut their doors altogether.