Parents in Chicago often enroll their children ages 3-5 in community-based organizations because they love and trust their local early learning program and because the program provides more convenient hours and comprehensive, year-long services for families. With support from Crown Family Philanthropies, Start Early launched a new initiative this summer in partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Chicago’s six federally funded Head Start grant recipients to make special education services more accessible for the city’s children ages 3-5 who are enrolled in community-based Head Start programs.
Currently in the city of Chicago, special education services are not provided in community-based settings where many children are enrolled. Instead, children attend both their community-based program and a school-based program, which involves bus rides and multiple transitions between classrooms in one day. Some parents who rely on community-based settings for early learning may forgo these services that their child needs to avoid distress and challenging behaviors that can follow the multiple transitions.
Even when children receive their special education services in a CPS classroom, those supports do not follow them to their community-based setting. This leaves children unable to fully access and participate in the classroom and it leaves teachers without the support they need to ensure the best quality educational experience. As a result, children may experience barriers to healthy development. The current system also poses long-term challenges for CPS as they work to ensure equitable access to special education and kindergarten readiness for all students.