Welcome Letter

Dear Friends and Partners,

As 2023 draws to a close, we at Kids First Chicago (K1C) find inspiration in the resilience and strength that Chicago families have shown over the past year. Recent years have reshaped our lives and underscored the importance of parent and community engagement, especially in education. Despite the challenges, Chicago parents have led the charge to break down barriers and create more opportunities for our children.

At K1C, we’ve seen the outsized impact on education when parents' voices are heard. Parents have driven sustained improvements—both local and systemwide—to create a more equitable, healthy, and inclusive public education system. Through our Parent Leadership Fellowship and Parent Leadership Teams, we now have parents actively working in 63 of 70 community areas in Chicago. They are building families’ knowledge about the education system and co-designing new policies and systems that will improve equity and lead to stronger outcomes for all kids and our city.

This year has been pivotal; we engaged 21,000+ students, parents, educators, and community members in developing a new, more inclusive model to measure school quality and equity and lead the nation in defeating the digital divide. With a robust team now 28-strong, we’re better equipped than ever to expand our reach.

Our 2023 Impact Report celebrates our shared victories and focuses our work ahead. With the collective will of our local and national supporters, we can achieve our vision for Chicago education — the kind of education that opens the doors to new opportunities in college, career, and life. An education where 100% of our students graduate with the confidence, knowledge, and skills to shape our city for the better.

We invite you to invest in our work and help us take the next step forward on our collective journey to transform Chicago's public education. Let’s recommit to our children’s and our city’s future together.

With appreciation for your partnership,

Daniel Anello
CEO, Kids First Chicago, Kids First Chicago Team

Laura Thonn
Board Chair, Kids First Chicago,
Office Managing Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Section 1

Activate Families

We are dedicated to activating and elevating the voices of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents and equipping them to be catalysts for change in their children’s education. Our innovative Parent Leadership Fellowship (PLF) and Parent Leadership Teams (PLTs) provide the necessary training and tools to demystify educational policies and empower parents to advocate for their children and schools effectively.

We’ve invested in and expanded locally-led education innovation:

  • Celebrating 31 parent leaders from our West and Southwest Side PLF cohorts in 2022 and 2023

  • Launching 18 PLTs working on educational initiatives within their communities and introducing 12 new PLTs this fall

Our commitment to building a robust network of parent advocates is reflected in our growing reach—now encompassing 63 of Chicago's 77 community areas. See the growing presence of K1C in shaping a brighter educational future in the map below.

K1C reaches 63 of 77 Chicago community areas.

Section 2

Share the Facts

Enrollment Solutions

In 2022, Kids First Chicago (K1C) released Part 1 | Chicago's Enrollment Crisis: Examining Root Causes. The report showed that CPS’s enrollment decline is attributable to an unprecedented reduction of school-age children in the city — about 175,000 fewer children since 2000. Chicago families are not fleeing CPS for non-public education options; instead, our analysis revealed that the district serves roughly 80% of all school-age children in the city – a market share that has remained consistent over the past 20 years. Enrollment drops in Chicago are driven by three factors: declining births, slowing in-migration of Latine families, and increasing out-migration of Black families.

In December 2023, K1C will release the second part of this series – Part Two | Chicago’s Enrollment Crisis: Adopting Parent-Led Solutions. We will explore the effects of crime, housing, education, cost of living, access to quality healthcare, and the presence (or lack thereof) of government programs on the everyday lives of Chicago families and outline parents' recommendations to make Chicago more attractive and supportive for families like them.

Section 3

Shape Policy

Defeating the Digital Divide

Kids First Chicago has been at the forefront of bridging the digital divide and transforming the virtual landscape for learning. Chicago Connected has been a game-changer since 2020, providing 100,000+ CPS students across 60,000 households – nearly 1 in 3 – with free, high-speed broadband internet and high-quality digital learning content. This initiative significantly closed the digital divide by turning data into action.

Our report, Defeating the Digital Divide: How Chicago Can Achieve True Digital Equity, showed that we helped to more than halve the connectivity gap for Chicago’s school-age children – from roughly 110,000 children in 2018 to approximately 46,000 children by the end of 2021. Our 2023 Chicago Connected Survey revealed that the program continues to serve its target population: low-income, working-age, families of color. Chicago Connected provides a crucial resource for families in need and serves as a national model for this work. As we demonstrated with this initiative, we can solve big issues when we come together for a common cause.

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In this day and age, EVERYTHING is online. Through free [Chicago Connected] workshops, I am proud to say I’ve learned [computer] basics and even earned two certificates for my resume. I am now better able to support my grandkids, and will soon start to pursue an online job with my new skills.

—Jacqueline Slaughter, CPS Grandparent of 6, Englewood

Co-Designing a More Equitable Accountability System

For over two years, K1C worked with CPS on a foundational strategic policy initiative – Accountability Redesign. This project far surpassed previous CPS policy initiatives – both in terms of the depth of engagement and the sheer number of stakeholders who participated. In late April, the Chicago Board of Education voted 7-0 (unanimously) to approve the framework K1C and CPS co-designed – with input from 21,000+ stakeholders. We summarized this critical project in a February 2023 case study.

We will implement these recommendations to ensure that schools receive what they need from the district to provide all students with a rigorous and supportive learning environment.

What Parents want in the Future Chicago School Board

Chicago's transition to an elected school board presents both new opportunities and new challenges. Kids First Chicago has been at the forefront of informing students, parents, community and education partners, media, and elected officials about families’ priorities for the future school board.

Kids First Chicago and our parent-led task force have guided the substance and direction of Chicago's Elected School Board for the past two years. With the dedication of parents and community members, we led an extensive campaign in 2022-2023: submitting multiple constitutionally-viable map prototypes, meeting with legislative leaders, providing testimony at hearings, organizing town halls, and ensuring families’ voices were heard through media engagement.

This fall, we conducted a citywide poll of registered and/or eligible voters in Chicago to find out if the views and priorities of K1C parents are similar to those of the general Chicago voter population. Key findings from the poll revealed that Chicago voters want:

  • The racial and ethnic composition of elected school board districts to reflect the composition of the Chicago Public Schools’ student body.

  • Any Chicago adult to be able to vote or serve in school board elections, regardless of their immigration status.

  • Strict limits on donations to elected school board candidate campaigns.

  • Stipends or salaries for elected school board members serving on the board.

  • Parent seats on the board.

In the spring and fall of 2023, we hosted town halls to build public awareness of the transition and press lawmakers for more equitable and inclusive representation on the school board. As a result of our parent-led advocacy, the Illinois General Assembly has committed to ensuring equitable representation in the future elected school board maps. We expect a final decision from the Illinois legislators in early 2024.

As we move forward, K1C remains vigilant and proactive. We will continue to elevate the conversation on CPS representation and work tirelessly to ensure that the elected board upholds Chicago families' and voters’ values and priorities. We will continue to work with our Elected School Board Task Force to push for other parent priorities, including campaign spending limits, parent representation on the board, and the ability for any Chicago resident, regardless of citizenship, to be able to serve on and vote in Chicago elected school board elections.

To learn more about the law that created the new board and what it means for Chicago families, click here.

100,000+

CPS Students in 60,000+ Households received free, high-speed internet and best-in-class digital learning resources through Chicago Connected.

21,000+

stakeholders engaged including parents, students, teachers, community leaders, and educators, to develop a new, more equitable school performance measurement system through K1C’s and CPS’s Accountability Redesign.

63 of 77

Chicago community areas represented by more than 173 core parent leaders with a strong concentration within West Side and South West Side communities.

30

locally-led Parent Leadership Teams activated to organize parents around local education issues and build a student-centered, citywide system of power.

Thank You to Our Supporters

We cannot do this work alone. We hope to count on your investment as we grow our impact in the years to come. Join us as we improve outcomes for kids and achieve our collective vision of a world-class Chicago.

See Our Supporters

School Council Superheroes: Boosting Parent Power

José Quiles and Norma López-Murillo lead a new Parent Leadership Team on the Northwest Side which aims to increase parent participation in Local School Councils and other school-based committees. 

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I believe that right now it is very important to educate the parents on the rights they have in the schools that their children attend. Through Kids First Chicago, parents obtain the knowledge that they need to not only help their children but all the children of our community

—José Quiles, K1C Parent Leadership Team Leader

Support Us

Please contact LeShonne Segura, Senior Director of Development & External Affairs, at (312) 241-7699 or lsegura@kidsfirstchicago.org for information about how you and your organization can support our work.

Kids First Chicago is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Our tax ID number is 83-0399727. Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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