COFI Deputy Director of Organizing and Policy Speaks to USA Today About Complex, Frustrating Early Learning Enrollment in Chicago

“Chicago used to have two main early-learning systems. One, which was run by the city, involved independent, center-based programs, while the other involved district-run prekindergarten classrooms. The two systems used different applications processes, meaning a parent could be put on the waitlist for a school-based pre-K spot and never know there were openings at, say, a church across the street from the school, said Tracy Occomy Crowder, a deputy director at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a nonprofit.

The burden of providing all the documentation required to enroll was frustrating, if not demoralizing. Social Security numbers. Two forms of identification or two pieces of mail. Income verification. A birth certificate. All those requirements are a turnoff for immigrant families, even if the child and their immediate family are in the country legally.

‘The confusion is one thing, but the fear alone has been one of the barriers in the Latino community,’ Occomy Crowder said. ‘People are kind of like, ‘That’s all right, I can just wait until I put them in the school and they’re not asking for my whole life story.’

COFI found widespread need for a ‘one-stop model’ where parents can get all the guidance, resources and support they need for child care. Chicago has since moved in that direction, which has helped to expand access significantly.”

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