Eric Fang

Mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, Ja’Mal Green, Sophia King, Kam Buckner, Roderick Sawyer, Paul Vallas, and Chuy García at a forum on early childhood education at the Logan Center on February 8, 2023.

Mayoral Candidates Talk Early Childhood Education at Logan Center Forum

Seven of the nine mayoral candidates, including local representative and Fourth Ward  alderman Sophia King, attended the event. Incumbent Lori Lightfoot was absent.

Seven Chicago mayoral candidates discussed their plans for improving early childhood education at a mayoral forum on Wednesday, February 8, at the Logan Center for the Arts.

Jesús “Chuy” García, Kambium “Kam” Buckner, Paul Vallas, Roderick Sawyer, Ja’Mal Green, Brandon Johnson, and Sophia King attended the 90-minute event, which was moderated by NBC’s Channel 5 News anchor Art Norman and Fox 32 News anchor Tia Ewing.

Each candidate had one minute and 30 seconds to answer each of the questions about their positions on early childhood education.

García, the U.S. representative for Illinois’s Fourth District since 2019, said his exposure to community activism when growing up in Pilsen inspired him to work in public service. He focused on his experience as a founding executive director of Little Village Community Development Corporation (now known as Enlace Chicago), a nonprofit organization that fights for more local public schools on the Southwest Side of Chicago.

“I understand very clearly, having had my own children and now having seven grandchildren, the importance of taking the first steps so that our children don’t fall behind,” García said. “Children who don’t get the opportunity for early childhood education wind up having all kinds of challenges later on in life, and many of them tragically wind up at the juvenile detention center or in jail.”

Buckner, a native Chicagoan and state representative for Illinois’ 26th District, said his focus on the issue has been proven through his push for new legislation intended to efficiently distribute funds to every school in the Chicago school district, among other initiatives.

“Public education is a public good, and the public good requires public investment,” Buckner said. “I’ve done that with caregiver and provider legislation. I’ve done certain tax credits that have been given to the industry that ended with making sure we can streamline processes, so that folks who are actually doing the work to pour into our young people at the earliest ages possible have all the help that they can receive from the state and municipal government.”

Vallas, a longtime school administrator, was Chicago’s budget director from 1990 to 1993 and the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001. He then took on administrative roles at public school systems in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Louisiana; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Vallas said that early childhood care should begin at the prenatal stage and emphasized the importance of offering care to expectant mothers.

“Waiting until children are four years old is, in fact, too late,” Vallas said. “So we actually established a program called Universal Prenatal to the Classroom. The objective was to make sure that the baby was born healthy and simply have the baby stimulated with early literacy, numeracy, and early vocabulary.”

Paul Vallas, former CPS superintendent, and Chuy García, U.S. Representative for Illinois' 4th District
Paul Vallas and Chuy García are among the candidates leading in polling. (Zarrin Ali)

Sawyer is the current alderman for the Sixth Ward and the son of Eugene Sawyer, who served as Chicago mayor from 1987 to 1989. At the forum, he said that as mayor, he would continue his existing work of advancing early childhood education by supporting the construction of a new campus for the Little Angels Learning Center of Chicago early childhood education facility.

“In 2014, I originally filed an ordinance asking for early childhood intervention for children [from] birth to age five,” Sawyer said. “And we continue to support the efforts of the Little Angels and make sure they build that facility in Englewood, in the Sixth Ward.”

Green, the youngest candidate at 27 years old, emphasized his campaign’s plan for a universal 3–K program in every school throughout Chicago as well as support for single and working mothers.

“We have helped [single mothers] become homeowners to help them obtain job opportunities,” Green said. “We also are currently building an 80,000 square-foot youth center in Auburn Gresham right now that’s going to have a 24-hour childcare center.”

Johnson, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners representing the First District, recalled that his first professional job before becoming a public school teacher was as a childcare provider for Children’s World Learning Center.

“I know what it’s like to not only work with the children but also the families that dropped their children off,” Johnson said. “As someone who is raising three children, [I] relied upon childcare centers, especially local. A better, stronger, safer Chicago needs a mayor who actually understands the meaning of childcare workers.”

Fourth Ward alderman King said early childhood education has always been one of her passions. She referred to her experiences starting Ariel Community Academy, a public school in North Kenwood, and leading the fight for a $15 minimum wage.

“[The minimum wage] brought 400,000, namely black and brown women, out of poverty, and some of those [were] early childhood educators,” King said. “I also helped put resources into early childhood education for the City Council. As a lifelong educator, I’ve been helping to put a priority around education and will continue to do that as mayor.”

L–R: Brandon Johnson, Ja'Mal Green, Sophia King, Kam Buckner, Roderick Sawyer.
Pictured from left to right: Brandon Johnson, Ja’Mal Green, Sophia King, Kam Buckner, Roderick Sawyer. Fourth Ward alderman King and 26th district state representative Buckner are active in local politics. (Zarrin Ali)

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