Let CPS Run Pre-K Admissions

Let’s end the horror stories from parents about trying to enroll in CPS PreK. The obvious answer: let CPS handle the enrollment system.

Ironically, CPS doesn’t manage its own preK enrollment process. The City of Chicago handles it through the Chicago Early Learning web site. If folks need help live, they don’t go to the places where they hope to enroll their children. Instead, they go to one of 12 centers around the city (housed in public libraries).

Since the system first launched, it has been driving parents nuts. The problems I have heard about most consistently are: difficulty enrolling, lack of sibling preference and no guarantee your child can attend preK at the same school where they would likely attend kindergarten.

The biggest hurdle to completing enrollment is the requirement that parents verify their information not at the school where their child will actually attend preK, but at one of 12 public library locations. These can be very inconvenient and the process is counter-intuitive for parents.

The lack of sibling preference in enrollment means families have to take one or more children to one elementary school, then take the youngest somewhere else for preK. It makes no sense to split siblings up, complicating families’ drop-off and pickup logistics. I can’t think of a better way to hold down enrollment.

These problems are driving parents away from CPS preK, to the point where some children aren’t attending preK at all. So much for universal preschool.

Ironically, solutions to these problems shouldn’t be that hard. GoCPS, the new common enrollment system for elementary and high schools, incorporates sibling preference for elementary magnet schools and manages zoned neighborhood preferences. It’s launch year wasn’t completely smooth, especially for parents who speak languages other than English, but overall it seems to have done a much better job of getting families the schools they wanted than the preK enrollment system has.

One of the benefits of mayoral control in theory is that CPS and the Mayor’s Office can talk to each other. Let’s hope that Chicago Early Learning and the CPS Office of Access and Enrollment can put their heads together and solve these issues.

Photo credit: Karen Fine

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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