CITY HALL — Neighborhood groups and aldermen pushed for universal prekindergarten day care Tuesday, even going as far as to set up a preschool classroom in City Hall for a news conference.
"This is a serious economic problem," said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). "It's a serious social problem."
"We need child care and early learning for all our children throughout the city," added Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
Members of the Progressive Reform Caucus said they'd submit a resolution at Wednesday's City Council meeting calling for hearings on the issue.
"We need affordable day care," said Hellen Juarez, of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. "How are we supposed to work if we can't find affordable day care for our children or full-day pre-K for our children?" She added that there are "no open slots" for day care in Brighton Park, which she said has the greatest need for it in the city.
"What is at stake right now is the future of our children — our whole city," Juarez said. "We want our children — all of them — to have a fair shot at education.
"We are requesting universal — for everybody," she added.
The Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Action Now joined with the Brighton Park council and aldermen to form what they called the Bright Future Chicago Campaign, supported by the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union Healthcare of Illinois.
"We need to make sure that working families can work and provide for their children," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th). "At the same time, those children can have quality education, full-day education."
Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel has spoken of expanding pre-K in Chicago, aldermen and activists accused his administration of actually letting it languish.
"The mayor is happy that SEIU and Ald. Fioretti are supporting his efforts to expand quality preschool options for our children and their families," replied mayoral spokesman Adam Collins. "Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality preschool, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free preschool within a year."
The campaign did not have an estimated cost of expanding day care to all Chicago children, but suggested it could be paid for with Tax Increment Finance reform, a so-called LaSalle Street tax on financial transactions and renegotiating interest rates on city loans.
"It's not spending," Sawyer insisted. "It's investing."
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