These Chicago neighborhoods will see the biggest preschool investments next year

Public schools in Austin, Avondale, Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and South Lawndale will see the biggest preschool investment next fall, according to a new report that offers the best window so far into the city’s timeline for building a universal pre-kindergarten system.

Chicago will spend $24.4 million to open 135 new pre-kindergarten classrooms next year, part of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to make pre-K free for four-year-olds across the city by 2021. The $175 million rollout will span four years, with 28 South and West side neighborhoods offering the program next school year, followed by 35 more in 2020-21, until every community in the city offers free pre-K options by 2021-22.

Find the full pre-K “roadmap” report as well as a list of neighborhoods and schools getting new classrooms next year below.

The city’s universal pre-K program will largely be concentrated in neighborhood schools — a source of contention with community providers and small business owners who offer publicly funded preschool programs, too. The city plans to offset the loss in business by helping community providers build out programs for younger children — babies, toddlers, and 3-year-olds — and has included $50 million in incentives to help spur their creation. 

Even as universal pre-K gets up and running, families still have other options through the schools depending on where they live, the age of their children, and whether they have the means to pay tuition.

City officials have said they hope to simplify the process of applying to preschool. Here’s how it currently works:

  • For seats in “universal” programs for 4-year-olds, families must apply online using the city’s Early Learning Portal, which opens in April. The portal is the same one that families currently use to apply for the majority of seats for 4-year-olds.
  • However, Chicago Public Schools still charges tuition for 11 preschools that accept 3- and 4-year-olds. To get into those programs, families must apply to schools directly. Tuition is nearly $14,000 per year for those programs. The city has no plan to phase out tuition programs at this time.
  • The district also operates four magnet preschools that are free but accept families by lottery. Applications were due in December through the school district’s GoCPS online portal for acceptance to Suder, Inter-American, Mayer, and Drummond, all on the North Side. Families will be notified with offers on April 22.
  • As schools open more classrooms for 4-year-olds, schools will offer fewer seats for 3-year-olds, mainly through half-day programs. The idea is that community centers will offer more seats for three-year-olds so that families who need full-day options can find them.

A recent report from the inspector general for the Chicago Board of Education criticized oversight of the district’s tuition-based programs, saying that Chicago missed out on nearly $2 million in payments because of fraud and mismanagement. Chicago Public Schools has pledged reforms.

The district will also make an effort to “right size” the program by closing classrooms in neighborhoods where there is an oversupply, including East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale.

In Englewood and West Englewood, some schools will gain classrooms while others will lose them to adjust for population changes.

In year three, universal pre-K classrooms will extend to 35 neighborhoods, including Hyde Park, Kenwood, Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Gage Park. In year four, the program will reach some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, including Lincoln Park, the Loop, and Lincoln Square.

Here’s the list of 28 communities and schools where the city says it will add universal pre-K classrooms in the fall :  

Auburn Gresham (2 new classrooms)

Gresham, Ryder

Austin (7 new classrooms)

DePriest, Ellington, Howe, Lewis, Lovett, Sayre, Young

Avalon Park, Burnside, and Calumet Heights (1 new classroom)


Avondale (6 new classrooms)

Logandale, Lorca, Reilly, Von Linne

Chatham (5 new classrooms)

Ashe, Burnside, Lenart, Pirie, Westcott

East Side (3 new classrooms)

Gallistel, Southeast, Washington

Greater Grand Crossing (7 new classrooms)

Deneen, Dulles, Harvard, Ruggles, Tanner

Hegewisch (1 new classroom)


Humboldt Park (6 new classrooms)

Casals, Nobel, Piccolo, Stowe, West Park

Logan Square (10 new classrooms)

Brentano, Chase, Darwin, Funston, Monroe, Mozart, Yates

Pullman (1 new classroom)


Roseland (3 new classrooms)

Curtis, Gillespie, Lavizzo

South Chicago (6 new classrooms)

Coles, Mann, Mireles, New Sullivan, Ninos Heroes, Thorp

South Deering (2 new classrooms)

Burnham, Marsh

South Lawndale (9 new classrooms)

Cardenas, Kanoon, McCormick, Ortiz de Dominguez, Saucedo, Spry, Zapata

South Shore (7 new classrooms)

Bouchet, Bradwell, O’Keeffe, Powell

Uptown (3 new classrooms)

Brennemann, Disney, Goudy

West Town (3 new classrooms)

Mitchell, Moos, Talcott

The district said it will also open several preschool classrooms in Belmont-Cragin and Irving Park, but that low-income families will be considered first there until the universal pre-K rollout is fully implemented in those neighborhoods.

You can read the city’s full pre-K “roadmap” report below.