CHICAGO, August 2, 2018—Asian Human Services (AHS), operator of Passages Charter School, recently announced layoffs for half of the school’s paraprofessionals. The union educators, who worked one-on-one with students needing early childhood and special education supports, were summoned to the school on July 25, 2018, to meet with management to receive formal layoff notices.
Following a protest yesterday by Chicago Teachers Union-Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff members and allies in front of AHS offices, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools awarded Passages a new early childhood education center this morning. The move comes as the city’s charter operators expect increased funding from CPS for the upcoming school year, despite teachers and staff at those schools raising concerns about inadequate staffing for wraparound supports and special education.
“It will be interesting to see how the mayor plans to expand the Pre-K program at Passages after the cuts to staff,” CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said. “He’s had grandiose plans for early childhood ever since he came into office, but the truth is that schools have been understaffed and under-resourced, and only the private companies providing Pre-K have benefited.”
In 2011, 8,157 3-year-olds and 15,548 4-year-olds were enrolled in Pre-K services in CPS. That number fell this year to 6,670 3-year-olds and 12,771 4-year-olds, with the decline accelerating in the wake of Emanuel’s mass closings of schools in 2013. Many of the closed schools housed Pre-K programs.
Overall, the number of children receiving Pre-K services has fallen by 18 percent since Emanuel took office, while the number of students enrolled in CPS schools overall has fallen by 8 percent during the same time period. The drop in Pre-K students coincides with an enrollment process created by the mayor that is cumbersome, difficult to navigate and poorly organized, often thwarting parents with older children in a school from registering their younger children in early childhood programs at that same school.
Last summer, Emanuel laid off almost 40 CPS PSRPs—primarily female educators of color—who helped parents enroll their children in early childhood programs. While more than half of those workers have been re-hired, many did not return to their responsibilities to facilitate Pre-K enrollment.
“The mayor and CPS stress the importance of early childhood education while continuing to muck up the application process, cut staff and cut services,” Sharkey said. “Educators at Passages and every other school with Pre-K will need more aides, not fewer, if students are ever going to get the special supports they deserve.”
Passages teachers and staff reached an agreement with AHS in 2017 just minutes before a strike deadline. Unionized staff at 11 other charter school networks, however, are currently in negotiations with their employers and coordinating their demands for increased staffing, resources and protection.