CHILD CENTER WANTS ANSWERS
Little Angels forced to shut doors in Englewood with denial of funding
An early childhood learning center in Englewood for 26 years was forced to shut its doors for the foreseeable future after the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services denied its proposal for funding.
More than half of Little Angels Learning Center’s operational budget came from city funding. Parents and staff of the learning center, 6701 S. Emerald Ave., have been engaged in a nearly yearlong fight to get the city to explain why Little Angels’ $300,000 proposal was turned down and for the city to restore funding.
The learning center was previously awarded more than $3 million from the city and state to build a new facility on a vacant lot across the street from the church basement it works out of now. But Little Angels can’t break ground without guaranteed day-to-day funding.
Executive director Nashone Greer-Adams said she wants to find a solution to the funding problem, but city officials haven’t kept communications open with them. Two meetings with the mayor’s chief of staff and the deputy mayor for education and human services were abruptly canceled last week.
“We’ve been in this fight for almost 10 months now asking for transparency, asking for clarity and, as of this date, we still haven’t received [any] clarity,” Greer-Adams said. “We know that [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] is concentrating on high-quality programing, so we don’t understand why our high-quality programing is being ripped away from us.”
Greer-Adams said the center’s retention rate is over 90%, and 87% of its students go on to selective enrollment schools. A history of success, she said, is why the city awarded the center the money to expand in the first place.
Little Angels originally lost funding in 2019 when the Department of Family and Support Services launched a new application process for early learning centers that prioritized programs that advanced kindergarten readiness and had lower child-to-adult ratios, higher teacher salaries and a more stringent staffing qualifications.
The city had said more than 150 learning centers citywide applied, and those proposals were graded on a point system. Only 101 were granted some funding, to begin in December 2019. Many of the others were forced to cut services or shutter. The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago closed three of its learning centers as a result of underfunding.
Although Little Angels’ application was denied, it received funding through a City Council resolution that helped 25 early learning centers remain open until the end of June.
On July 1, that funding dried up, and Little Angels was forced to close its doors.
Quenjana Adams Olayeni, spokeswoman for the Department of Family and Support Services, said the city has worked closely with Little Angels and other centers that lost funding. She said the department’s efforts included the funding that got these centers through June, as well as consulting services to help them prepare for when the funding ultimately dried up.
“[Department of Family and Support Services] has a team dedicated to assisting families with finding alternate programs if they’re faced with limited availability within their current program or neighborhood,” Olayeni said.
But looking for alternative programs doesn’t sit right with parents who relied on Little Angels over the years.
For weeks, parents and educators with Little Angels have camped out in front of Lightfoot’s Logan Square home demanding a sit-down conversation. Lately they’ve been holding classes outdoors near Lightfoot’s home to show that Little Angels isn’t just a day care.
Cherelle Bilal, a parent organizer, said not only did Little Angels provide quality education for her children but also helped her survive domestic violence.
“They helped me escape that violence and escape that community and flourish,” she said.
Bilal said she was able to go back to school and work on an early childhood education degree. She said the learning center’s wraparound services, such as family bonding classes and career growth programs, will be missed if Little Angels is forced to stay closed.
“If you take this out this community, you will be taking away a safe haven,” she said.
Lakiesha Veal, 22, said she would have been lost as a young mom at 17 if it weren’t for Little Angels. There, she learned to connect with her baby
“I didn’t know anything of how to really be a parent — I was a kid having a kid,” Veal said. “Being here with Little Angels has taught me a lot, and it has opened my eyes a lot on the parenthood side. I’ve learned the value and the significant meaning of what it means to bond with your child.”
Executive director Nashone Greer-Adams stands outside the Little Angels Learning Center on Monday.
The toddler classroom and play area at the Little Angels Learning Center in Englewood.