Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to use “social impact bonds”, as well as other government funding, to improve the city’s early childhood education programs. The goal of the mayor’s plan is to increase preschool enrollment for low-income children over the next four years.
Social impact bonds are a new tactic for raising money for public projects through private investors. When projects are successful, investors are repaid by the government for funding the project. The Mayor plans to use $17 million in social impact bonds towards the project, which will cover the cost of enrolling 2,600 students in preschools over the four-year period.
The first wave of enrollments is scheduled for November and would enroll 374 students throughout six different schools this year. The following two years would increase enrollments by 782 students each year, and the program would place 680 students at schools in its final year.
Emanuel has championed pre-kindergarten education reforms throughout his time in office, and his announcement to improve Chicago’s programs comes at a time when the importance of preschool education is in the national spotlight.
During a speech at Northwestern University last Tuesday, President Obama announced his goal of enrolling six million children in quality preschool programs by 2020. This new goal adds three-year-old children to the Preschool For All initiative that was outlined by the President in 2013. The initiative was originally geared towards only four-year-olds.
The Preschool For All initiative was laid out in the President’s State of the Union address last year. The purpose of the initiative is to provide “all low and moderate income four-year-olds with high quality preschool, while encouraging states to serve additional four-year-olds from middle class families,” according to The Huffington Post.
Critics say that Obama’s goal of expanding preschool education to all three- and four-year-olds is a stretch, considering government funds would be needed to help states improve and expand their current preschools. With Congress shifting to Republican control, securing extra funds for such a project is unlikely, according to New America Foundation political analyst Clare McCann.
Throughout the country there are only about two million three- and four-year-olds currently enrolled in public preschools.