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Early childhood education program assistants fired by Rahm Emanuel

CHICAGO—Taking a lead from his mentor, Gov. Bruce Rauner, and the President Donald Trump/U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos federal education budget, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has cut Head Start programming throughout the city.

The mayor last week fired 38 Head Start Program Resource Assistants, predominantly women of color servicing Chicago Public Schools pre-kindergarten (pre-K) parents and students in Head Start programs throughout the city. Thirty-eight experienced pre-school assistants will be replaced by just 13 new staff, while supposedly offering services to far more families, yet in an Orwellian turn, Emanuel claims that by cutting Head Start staff he is actually adding to the resources available to pre-K students and families.

“The mayor claims he is expanding pre-school access, but next year’s plan continues a pattern of reducing resources and accessibility, and families have already been dropping out of the system because it is increasingly difficult to register children for these critical programs,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “We currently serve less than 25 percent of the city’s children in need of early learning access with quality, full-day programs, and cutting from Head Start will exacerbate the loss of children enrolling in the program, which has already been in free fall.”

Any gaps will be covered by requiring already understaffed schools to use existing personnel to perform the work of the fired Head Start workers. These personnel cuts come on top of a new online registration system that has made Head Start and other pre-school programs more difficult for parents to access.

“We have decades of experience working with Head Start classrooms in our most under-resourced communities, and we help parents find employment, and access health care, job training and educational opportunities,” said Charlotte Sanders, one of the fired Head Start Program Resource Assistants. “We help homeless parents find housing and take care of their families' basic needs, and these firings are another example of Rahm taking from those who have the least.”

Pointing to maneuvers by mayoral allies in the Chicago City Council to sideline a push to use surplus tax increment financing (TIF) funds, a corporate head tax or a commuter tax to fund education, early childhood education advocates say the Emanuel administration is using pre-K access as a diversionary public relations tool, and lacks a true commitment to working for the progressive revenue these programs require.

“This announcement falls far short of any meaningful progress in closing Chicago’s gaping hole in early learning access,” Lewis said.

On Wednesday, President Lewis will join the fired Resource Assistants for a rally and press conference before the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting.

Chicago Teachers Union