Universal Pre-K for Chicago
The long-term benefits of high-quality early childhood education are well researched. For example, children who attend pre-kindergarten are 44% more likely to graduate high school. For every $1 invested in early childhood education, society gains a $7.30 return due to reduced spending on crime, anti-poverty measures, and education. Yet only 25% of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students starting kindergarten arrive ready to learn. Access to publicly-funded pre-kindergarten (or pre-K) is limited, and private pre-K is prohibitively expensive for most Chicago families. To increase access to quality early childhood education, in May 2018 the City of Chicago committed to universal, full-day pre-K for four-year-olds and expanding birth-through-three services for high-need families.
In early 2019, the City and CPS asked Civic Consulting Alliance to help them achieve their early childhood education goals and implement Universal Pre-K (UPK) by school year 2021-2022, starting with two initial projects: Chicago Pre-K Enrollment Collaborative, and UPK Expansion Planning.
Chicago Pre-K Enrollment Collaborative
The diversity of Chicago’s pre-K providers—spanning CPS and numerous community-based organizations—is one key challenge to pre-K access. This fragmented network can make it difficult for parents to identify and enroll in pre-K programs that meet their needs. To help families and ensure that all publicly funded pre-K programs were fully utilized, in 2015, the Mayor’s Office centralized the enrollment process into a single online application for the city, and invested in unified marketing and parent supports citywide.
In May of 2019, when the enrollment period for the 2019-2020 school year was beginning and UPK was to be implemented in the first 28 community areas, the City was also transitioning to a new Mayoral administration. This put the collaborative effort around pre-K enrollment, managed by the Mayor’s Office, at risk of discontinuing.
Recognizing this, Civic Consulting Alliance stepped in to help maximize enrollment in the 2019-2020 school year across schools and community early childhood education programs. From April through September 2019, with sponsorship from the Mayor’s Office, Civic Consulting Alliance managed the enrollment program across five organizations: Chicago Public Schools, Department of Family Support and Services, Illinois Action for Children, Community Organizing and Family Issues, and Vera Communications. We:
Facilitated collaborative planning, problem solving, and decision making across stakeholder organizations; and
Developed a marketing and outreach strategy and dashboard to better support parents through the application process.