What's up with Universal PreK? Here's what we know.

Written by: Chicago School GPS

A guide to the city's universal preK initiative

Public preschool admissions, procedures and offerings have been an ever-changing process year after year. This year is no exception as CPS is once again in the midst of changes to their Chicago Early Learning programs (formerly known as Ready to Learn, Preschool for All and others).  

The newest change is a Universal PreK (UPK) component, but CPS is rolling it out in phases to further confuse and muddle the landscape.  

This latest initiative was announced by outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who left office before it could be fleshed out or implemented. While the intent was to have all 4-year-olds in Chicago eligible to receive free preschool (at a local school or community site) by the 2021-2022 school year, the actual details were unclear. Needless to say, the rollout has been confusing for many parents but the hope is that it will provide more opportunities for all students.

As of September 2019, the first phase is to have 28 highest-need communities on the South and West Sides (and one in Uptown) to get access first in their neighborhood schools and nearby community sites. Then, in the 2020-2021 school year, 35 more high-need communities will roll out and, finally, in the 2021-2022 school year, all Chicago 4-year-olds will have nearby neighborhood or community sites available to them. Read more at Chicago Early Learning & UPK FAQs. Find out when your neighborhood will get UPK here.

As background, preschool is not required in Illinois, but families do try to have their children enrolled in some programs for socialization or kindergarten readiness. Besides the myriad private options, there are several “public” options that are not necessarily tuition-free. CPS houses preschool programs in school facilities with space, and this past year many programs were through Chicago Early Learning, which had sliding-scale tuition for mostly 7-hour-a-day programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. These programs opened their applications in the spring and, as of now, there are still many available spots in various centers—and hiring fairs to bring more teachers into the preschool pool. 

CPS also hosts a small number of Tuition Based Preschools that are typically popular with families whose older child attends that school (but there is no guarantee the preschool child can attend the same school for kindergarten without applying first). 

CPS also has three tuition-free programs that begin at age 3 (Suder and Drummond) or age 4 (Inter-American) and the student can stay until 8th grade. These are the only preschool programs you apply to via the go.cps.edu portal.

With the addition of Universal PreK, the goal is to ultimately provide free preschool to all Chicago 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, the actual implementation may encounter some speed bumps along the way. 

Learn more about Universal PreK, how to apply to public and private preschools and more from Grace Lee Sawin at NPN's Preschool & Elementary School Fair on Sept. 14. Plus, you can chat with reps from some of the best preschools in the city. Reserve your spot!

Chicago School GPS helps you navigate the confusing school search process to find the best suited public and/or private schools in the Chicago area for your child. We continually explore all options to guide you to your school destination. Whether you are looking for general, gifted or special education guidance, use the expertise and experience of Chicago School GPS to make your school search journey an easier one. Visit us at chischoolgps.com or call 312-324-4774.

Related articles:

Preschool vs. preK: What's the difference?

VIDEO: Chicago Public & Private Preschool Primer (members only)

How to apply for CPS preschools


Posted on September 05, 2019 at 9:56 AM