School District 51 officials say over the past year they enrolled more than 700 children in pre-school programs, but many were left on waiting lists trying to get in. They say they're expecting another packed year this fall and are encouraging parents to start planning ahead.
Tuesday night, School District 51 held pre-school open houses across the county to give parents a chance to find out more about the program and the application process.
"A lot of times people don't realize how important pre-school education is for children," said Loni Wolfe, a pre-school teacher at Appleton Elementary. "I think it's a building block for education."
Many parents agree. Jeff McPherson has two kids enrolled in School District 51 programs, and says he couldn't be any happier with the results.
"The developmental skills that they're going to gain interacting with other kids their own age is going to help them for the rest of their lives," said McPherson.
But Jeff, like many parents, found that putting his kids in that environment took a lot of work on his part.
"We're growing so fast, we don't have education buildings or the facilities for these young kids to be enrolled into," said McPherson. "That's what I think is hurting every parent out there."
School officials agree.
"I do believe we have a shortage of part day pre-school programs," said Jackie Howard, Early Childhood Coordinator for School District 51.
School District 51 says it enrolls hundreds of three and four-year-olds every year into its pre-school classes, but it gives preference to special needs and at risk children.
Last year it began offering a tuition based program, allowing anyone to enroll. But the program only makes up about 30 out of 700 spots.
"Boy, we get so many applications," said Howard. "We get lots of calls and inquiries."
School officials say they're doing their best to accommodate everyone.
"We're always looking at ways we can increase our programming and provide more opportunities for the little ones," said Howard.
They say the best thing parents can do is start looking at options early.
To qualify, your child must be 3 or 4 before September 15th and you must turn in an application. Applications can be picked up and turned into the school district offices at 410 Hill Drive.
The tuition based spots are on a first come, first serve basis.