Chicago plans to open preschool applications April 21

Chicago plans to open its preschool application period on April 21, a spokeswoman for the city’s family services department told Chalkbeat, but the launch date could get revised depending on the evolving emergency response to coronavirus.

The two agencies that oversee early learning in Chicago — the public school district and the city family services department — have had to focus on responding to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Preschools based in Chicago schools are closed at least through April 20 due to the outbreak. The city originally kept its community-run preschools open but last week closed many of them. Since then, the state has issued emergency licenses to allow some centers that care for the children of first responders to remain open. 

First responders and health care workers seeking assistance with child care during the outbreak may call the city’s early learning hotline at 312-229-1690, the city has said. But the hotline, which is managed by a third party, is not staffed around the clock and callers must leave a message. A recorded greeting says that phone calls will be returned within a business day. 

The city has also set up an online form for people who have questions about early learning or who are seeking emergency child care. Over the weekend, Chicago announced a new partnership with the website Sittercity to help connect health care workers and other essential frontline staff with care in their homes or small group settings. 

Chicago has said it is expanding preschool options and will eventually offer enough seats for every 4-year-old in the city to attend a full-day class for free. The goal was to open enough seats by the 2021-22 school year. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has encountered several hurdles to expanding child care, chiefly in awarding $200 million in grants last summer that critics say was not executed transparently, and could ultimately force highly rated early learning centers to close classrooms.

The city retained a law firm to audit the grant process, but has not released the results. 

The city department that also oversees early learning in community settings has also been coordinating services for seniors. The school district is managing hundreds of food pickup sites for students that allow families to pick up three days of meals at once.