Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. To attend a CPS-based preschool, however, requires understanding the differences between the options.
If you’re thinking about CPS magnet schools for preschool next fall, the time to look into those programs is…now! Because you can apply nearly a full year before entry, this is the fall to apply, presuming your child was 2 by this past Sept. 1st (so they'll be of age next fall, for programs that start at 3 years old). Applications for the 2022-2023 school year for two magnet preschools (Suder and Drummond) opened on October 13, and are due December 15 at 5pm. Parents can create their student’s CPS ID at Go.CPS.edu. If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools (Tuition-Based PreK or Chicago Early Learning Programs), the deadline varies as outlined below.
Here’s a quick rundown of the programs and application requirements for CPS preschool programs:
Tuition-Based Preschool (TBP): Full-day programs that provide childcare in addition to preschool (10-hour day; hours may vary by school). Housed in seven elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed one year before entry either first-come, first-served or via selection criteria directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $15,275, which includes a $700 non-refundable deposit required to hold your child’s spot in the class, if offered. Visit the CPS Tuition-Based Preschool page for a list of school locations and to print an application.
Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): Either half-day (2.5–3 hours) or full-day (7 hours) programs housed in select elementary schools, with tuition determined by a sliding scale or waived (announced pre-pandemic). Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Typically, 3-year-olds are hosted by community-based sites while 4-year-olds can be in CPS school-based locations. The application process is completely online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants are typically added to a waitlist until the number of open spots is determined. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for application information and updates; the application period will begin in Spring 2022 for Fall 2022 entry, but some sites may have rolling availability.
Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools, Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. Seats in magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. The Choice Elementary CPS application is required for the two magnet preschool programs; the online application period for 2022-2023 opened on October 13 and closes December 15 at 5pm. Go to go.cps.edu to apply. Acceptance into the magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive.
COVID has shifted some tours and open houses to virtual formats this year and it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to get the details on how to apply and/or get on their waitlist; some programs have not yet determined the number of seats that will be open for next fall.
A couple of important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Residing within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program does not guarantee admission into that school’s optional preschool program; an application is required from all entering students, and acceptance into a CPS preschool program that is not your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program (except for the magnet programs described above).
Updated Fall 2021