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This fall, more CPS kindergartners will have full day in class

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces an expansiChicago Public Schools' all-day kindergarten program during visit Enrico Tonti Elementary School Monday.  |

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces an expansion of the Chicago Public Schools' all-day kindergarten program during a visit to Enrico Tonti Elementary School on Monday. | Scott Olson~Getty Images

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Updated: September 7, 2013 6:14AM

Despite $68 million in net classroom cuts, many Chicago Public Schools kindergartners will double their classroom time later this month, the mayor and schools chief said Monday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who announced plans to mandate a full day of kindergarten for CPS children, and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett led a tour of Enrico Tonti Elementary School, 5815 S. Homan, one of six elementary schools that received a new modular unit to house extra classrooms needed for kindergarten.

The district earmarked $15 million more to pay for the longer day for 5-year-olds, mostly from cuts to central spending as it closed a budget deficit it said approached $1 billion. It’s spending an additional $15.4 million in capital money to upgrade or add space for kindergarten classrooms, too. Overall, CPS will spend $119 million on kindergarten this year.

“This opportunity cannot be reserved just for some. This is an entitlement for all our children,” Byrd-Bennett said. “A full-day kindergarten program isn’t just a line item in our budget. It’s an investment in our children and in our city’s future. It is an investment in the next generation. It is a priority we are committed to preserving.”

As many schools are ending up with less money than last year because of a new budgeting system, the district is paying this year for the full-day kindergarten program. That frees up about $14 million in discretionary money that 172 schools used last year to pay for kindergarten.

It also will increase classroom time for about 4,200 more children for a total of about 30,700 in more than 400 schools, according to the district. The kindergarten expansion will mean some of the 1,500-plus teachers laid off in June and July could be rehired. CPS couldn’t immediately say how many new kindergarten teachers might be hired.

The program’s expansion, announced in February, begins Aug. 26, when all CPS students are to report for the first day of class.

“In just a couple weeks from now for the first time in the history of the city of Chicago, every child regardless of where they live, regardless of their family’s income, will get a full day of kindergarten,” said Emanuel, who would not take questions from reporters.

Illinois requires only half a day of kindergarten. Ten states and the District of Columbia have legislated a full day of publicly funded kindergarten. CPS is now allotting the same amount of money per kindergarten student — $4,429 — as first- through third-graders, according to the district’s “student-based” budget.

Tonti’s kindergarten expansion from six part-time classes to six full-time ones required three more classrooms, but it has not come with any new hires, according to Assistant Principal Sergio Ramirez. The six teachers who co-taught before will remain. The school is adding only a gym teacher to help free up teachers for prep period, Ramirez said.

The Pre-K to-fifth grade school in Chicago’s Gage Park community opened a new modular unit for four of the kindergarten rooms. Two remain in the main building, where a former kindergarten room now will hold a pre-kindergarten program, Ramirez said.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever going to argue that a full day of kindergarten isn’t excellent,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. “But the problem is that we have some serious issues with the whole concept of a longer school day now. Since [CPS] fired so many staff, we’re seeing a real problem with how that day’s going to be appropriately staffed.”

According to the CTU, about 100 teachers hired under Emanuel’s longer school day have since been laid off. CPS says that number is more like 69, 31 of whom taught specialty subjects that aren’t mandatory.

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