Chicago finds more money to stave off closures, layoffs at child care centers

Chicago will put $5 million more into care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, to stave off the impending layoffs and closures of established child care centers.

After insisting that it would not revisit its August decision to yank some funds from some longtime and highly rated care providers, the city has scraped together $11 million, including the just-added $5 million, to temporarily save some centers.

The city threw the system of community child care providers into chaos earlier this year when it unexpectedly redistributed $200 million in state grants in a way that cut off some high-quality providers and favored newcomers with a scant track record.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot confirmed to Chalkbeat Chicago on Tuesday that the city will use funds that it saved by delaying the start date of its state grants program by several months. The city parceled out $200 million earlier this year through a recompetition for state grants for care for children under age 5.

After a public outcry, the city in September extended funding to 25 agencies that lost funding for early-care seats in the grant competition.

The second extension will ensure that more agencies that lost funding in the grant process will receive up to 80% of their funding through June 30, the mayor’s spokeswoman Jordan Troy said.

The city could not provide a count of how many more centers will receive funding in the second extension. A newly formed advocacy group, the Campaign for Equitable Early Learning Funding, said that before the funding extensions were announced, 102 classrooms and more than 350 jobs could potentially be cut.

The grants from the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, which oversees community-based early learning programs and administered the grant competition, are for five years. Providers who received the extensions will get, at best, 80% of their previous funding for one year when the latest grant cycle begins in December.

At a town hall Tuesday night at Antioch Baptist Church in Englewood, providers pointed out that cuts of 20% or more may still force them to lay off staff.  

How the providers will sustain operations is still an open question. The confusion is ironic in a year when Chicago leaders pledged to boost support for the city’s youngest residents.

After widespread complaints about the grant process, the Department of Family and Support Services has retained a law firm, Baker McKenzie, to audit its grant competition and report back findings.