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  • Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

    CPS Universal Pre-K: What you need to know

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    Chicago's Universal Pre-K initiative (free preschool for 4-year-olds) is now being offered to all Chicago families this fall 2022.

     

    If you have ever felt confusion about Chicago’s public preschool admissions, procedures and offerings, you are not alone.

    The process and nomenclature have changed each year, with various names, programs and application processes to keep track of. Some programs were applied to via the GoCPS portal and others were via a city of Chicago portal.

    This year, however, CPS and Chicago are working together to streamline their programs and finally bring about Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) for all Chicago children who turn 4 years old on or before 9/1/22. While still called Chicago Early Learning, the portal is now under CPS’s umbrella and, starting at 9am on April 19, 2022, the online application will open.

    While details are still being finalized, these are some changes to expect:

    [Related: How to apply for CPS preschools]

    • School-based full-day (7 hours/day) sites are prioritized for 4-year-olds; 3-year-olds may be offered half-day programs in community-based sites
    • Families can apply for up to 5 program sites (must rank your order of preference)
    • “Priority Points” will be given to families as follows: those with income or learning needs, siblings, neighborhood school and within a 1.5 mile proximity of a preschool site 
    • There will be an “initial application period” open for about a month, so applications are not first come, first serve until after that period closes in mid-May
    • After first-round offers are given in May, the next rounds will be offered on a rolling basis with 24-hour notification starting in June
    • Application portal is via Schoolmint (same platform as GoCPS) but will not require obtaining a CPS Student ID prior to applying
    • Most families should get one of their top 5 choices
    • Offers are verified through a Family Resource Center or directly at a school or community-based site, with proof of income, address and birth certificate.

    • Waitlists will be offered for any programs ranked above the offered choice. 

     

    • Summer transition programs are planned ("Preview to PK" and "Kickoff to Kindergarten") with more information released after offers are sent.

     

    [Related: Preschool vs. Pre-K: What's the difference?]

    Read more at Chicago Early Learning & UPK FAQs or call the CEL Hotline: (312) 229-1690. 

    While preschool is not required in Illinois, many families do try to have their children enrolled in some programs for socialization or kindergarten readiness. For 4-year-olds, CPS will house their preschool programs in school facilities with space or in regional “Early Learning Centers,” and applications are available through Chicago Early Learning. The portal also can help families of 3-year-olds find community-based host sites. 

    CPS still has two tuition-free magnet Montessori-based elementary programs that begin at age 3 (Suder and Drummond) where the student can stay until 8th grade. These are the only preschool programs you apply to via the go.cps.edu portal. All other free preschool options should be applied to via the Chicago Early Learning web portal, opening April 19, 2022.

    Tuition-based pre-K will also no longer be offered and had already dwindled substantially over the years. In addition, changes to GoCPS’s elementary process for 2023–2024 applications are being proposed to give “priority points” for students to continue from their preschool and stay there for kindergarten. Starting this October, Chicago Early Learning 4-year-old students enrolled at a CPS school site for preschool can apply to continue at that school for kindergarten via the GoCPS portal. They will be given priority before out-of-boundary, unaffiliated new students are offered spots.

    With Universal Pre-K, the goal is to essentially start a student’s free public school journey at age 4 in preschool instead of 5 in kindergarten. With the newest Chicago Early Learning application, the first steps of that goal are closer to becoming a reality.

    Updated spring 2022



    Grace Lee Sawin

    Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS. Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school and beyond, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.



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