January 2024

About the Series

In January 2022, Kids First Chicago (K1C) released Chicago's Enrollment Crisis Part 1: Examining Root Causes, which looked at Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) enrollment decline over the past two decades. Part Two examines the multifaceted issues identified by parents and caregivers as the top barriers related to Chicago keeping and attracting families.

In ranked order, these include:

  1. Crime & Safety

  2. Taxes & Cost of Living

  3. Education (PreK-12)

  4. Housing

  5. Job Quality

  6. Access to Quality Healthcare

  7. Lack of Government Programs & Benefits

Part One noted that CPS alone cannot solve Chicago's enrollment crisis. It demands a multi-faceted approach involving both the public and private sectors. The ultimate goal is to make Chicago an attractive and supportive environment for families, ensuring they view the city as a desirable place to live, work, and educate their children.

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The ultimate goal is to make Chicago an attractive and supportive environment for families, ensuring that they view the city as a desirable place to live, work, and educate their children.


This work is the culmination of over 1,500 people-hours participating in 30 in-depth workshops with more than 160 CPS parents from 45 community areas across the City of Chicago. The racial/ethnic composition of the parents engaged was 66% Latine, 28% Black, and 5% White. Parents had the option to attend three workshops conducted in English, Spanish, or bilingual (English and Spanish).

Fifteen K1C parents formed the Enrollment Solutions Design Team (ESDT) to guide the work through various phases of engagement. The work of the ESDT began in the spring of 2022 and culminated in the spring of 2023, meeting for over 50 hours across nearly 20 different virtual and in-person meetings.


People Hours


Parents & Caregivers Engaged

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Community Areas Represented


Enrollment Solutions Design Team Members

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As a Black woman from the West Side of Chicago, it was very important [for me] to be a part of this process and have my voice reflected in the recommendations.

—Karonda Locust, CPS Parent & ESDT Member

The Parent Plan

Recommendations to Address Chicago’s Enrollment Crisis

Families want safe neighborhoods, stellar education, quality jobs, affordable housing, and robust healthcare options. These are necessities, not just amenities, that people prioritize when deciding where to raise their children. By aligning our efforts with their recommendations, we can create environments where families can flourish without fear. And by embracing their recommendations, we signal our commitment to their needs and aspirations.

Each chapter below offers new data insights and recommendations for addressing this interrelated crisis from CPS families’ perspectives.

Issue Area 1: Crime & Safety

Identified by parents as the top barrier to attracting and keeping families in the city, they cited multiple ways crime and safety issues negatively impact kids’ educational experience, from creating a pervasive atmosphere of fear and anxiety among students, teachers, and parents alike to contributing to higher teacher turnover and student dropout rates. Further, these issues limit students’ and parents’ willingness to participate in extracurricular activities, after-school programs, and school events.

Parents recommend a comprehensive approach to minimize crime, address the root causes of violence, and invest in projects focusing on safety, beautifying communities, and creating a sense of belonging among neighbors.


  1. Increase city-wide security measures and expand alternative crisis responses.

  2. Sustainably fund community violence intervention programs.

  3. Establish a state-level capital program for neighborhood improvement projects that explicitly focus on improving safety.

  4. Provide workforce development and housing support for formerly incarcerated individuals to mitigate reoffending.

> Read the deep-dive chapter

Issue Area 2: Taxes & Cost of Living

Chicago regularly ranks among the most expensive places in the world. One estimate has Chicago’s cost of living as 31% higher than the state average and 20% higher than the national average. Another suggests Chicago residents need to earn an annual income of $172,600 for their purchasing power to equate to that of the average American bringing in $100,000.

Chicago’s high cost of living adversely affects low-income families, who are faced with tough decisions to make ends meet. Some families relocate to more affordable areas, and others will work long hours or multiple jobs, leaving them with less time and energy to participate in their children’s learning.


  1. Lower the city sales tax on necessities, and offset the revenue loss by broadening the tax to a wider range of luxury items.

  2. Provide low- and medium-income homeowners and renters with property tax relief.

  3. Abolish sales tax double taxation on gasoline purchases and all sales taxes on medicine and groceries.

  4. Enact a graduated income tax in the State of Illinois and create automatic triggers to reduce the income tax rate for low-income earners.

> Read the deep-dive chapter

Issue Area 3: Education (PreK-12)

The recent influx of migrants coming to Chicago has played a significant role in temporarily stabilizing CPS enrollment. Chicago must be intentional about integrating newcomers into our communities and schools, providing them with ready access to housing and government support.

Parents believe that a child’s educational experience from preschool through 12th grade has a major effect on a family’s decision to remain in Chicago. Moreover, the overall reputation of the district and its schools can be an incentive – or a deterrent – to families in their decision to relocate to Chicago.


  1. Funding Chicago’s schools adequately and equitably.

  2. Offering programming beyond the traditional school day.

  3. Expanding investment in 21st Century community schools “Neighborhood Hub” models.

  4. Extending Chicago’s Parent Mentor Program to every CPS elementary school.

  5. Dramatically increase focus on – and investment in – school climate reform.

  6. Supporting, training, and paying teachers like professionals.

  7. Better prepare all Chicago students for jobs of the future.

> Read the deep-dive chapter

Issue Area 4: Housing

Parents described how frequent moves and switching schools lead to learning gaps and the failure to form stable relationships with teachers. Housing challenges prevent families from living in areas with better-performing schools and may force them to accept longer commutes which limit time for extracurricular activities or homework.

Unhoused students face tremendous challenges including difficulties with attendance, a lack of access to resources, and increased emotional stress.

Housing affordability also impacts teachers. High living costs may deter teachers from working in certain areas, leading to teacher shortages in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

Parents’ final set of recommendations on housing encompassed 12 specific policy recommendations in two key areas.


Increase affordable housing stock.

  1. Expand incentives and tax breaks to developers to create affordable housing

  2. Relax zoning and development rules

  3. Engage in strategic property purchases to preserve housing affordability

  4. Incentivize new construction of affordable homes via better lending terms

Reduce barriers to renting and owning a home & ensure housing security.

  1. Maintain emergency rental assistance programs

  2. Pilot below-market & interest-free mortgages to first-time home-buying families

  3. Expand the number of zero down payment, zero closing cost mortgages for first-time homebuyer families in Chicago's predominantly Black and Latine communities

  4. Expand Chicago’s financial literacy education offerings to boost homeownership rates for Black and Latine families

  5. Dramatically change what information Chicago-based banks use to issue mortgages

  6. Pilot a program to encourage landlords to rent to families

  7. Prohibit the practice of forcing noncitizens to pay higher interest rates and down payments for mortgages

  8. Expand federal housing subsidies for rental assistance

Issue Area 5: Job Quality

1 in 3 workers in Chicago have a low-wage job. About 1 in 3 of these low-wage workers send their children to CPS, compared to 1 in 5 high-wage workers.

Quality jobs strengthen Chicago’s economy and enable workers to meet family obligations, save for the future, and prevent poverty. However, many workers, particularly women and people of color, lack access to living wages, paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, stable work schedules, and other protections.

Without a quality job and the stability that comes with it, parents have less flexibility to actively engage in their children’s education; students experience stress due to financial instability at home, making it more difficult to focus at school; and families are forced to make housing decisions based on job availability, exacerbating school enrollment challenges and instability.

A thriving job market with more quality employment opportunities can have a positive ripple effect on Chicago’s education system through increased resources for schools, enhanced parental involvement, and a more supportive civic community that fosters student success and well-being.


  1. Take action to improve job quality by:
    1. Raising wages and addressing systemic wage gaps

    2. Establishing career paths for low-wage earners and support with workforce training

    3. Establishing strong job safety standards and stable, predictable hours

    4. Launching a citywide campaign to ensure employers provide family-friendly benefits

  2. Better prepare Chicagoans for existing job opportunities by
    1. Boosting support for community colleges to provide in-demand job training

    2. Piloting innovative workforce development programs to help families access infrastructure jobs

  3. Create more quality jobs by accelerating support to Chicago’s small businesses

Issue Area 6: Access to Quality Healthcare

Disparities in access to healthcare are egregious; the South Side of Chicago has fewer than half the number of Primary Care Provider locations when compared to the North Side.

The lack of access to healthcare – including mental health and preventative care services – can exacerbate anxiety in students from already high-stress environments and cause some health conditions to go undiagnosed and untreated.

Teachers in classrooms with a high proportion of students lacking healthcare face greater strain on their resources and time, affecting the overall quality of education that they can provide. Parents recommend more accessible healthcare services and supports.


  1. Expand healthcare services beyond traditional brick-and-mortar locations through telehealth and mobile clinics

  2. Increase awareness of citywide mental health services & local healthcare sites

  3. Improve healthcare providers’ cultural competence

  4. Address health coverage gap for Illinois’ immigrants

  5. Abolish the State of Illinois sales tax on prescription drugs

Issue Area 7: Lack of Government Programs & Benefits

Parents shared a variety of ways that the lack of strong government programs such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and housing support, has increased financial hardship for Chicago families. This may lead to families moving to places with more supportive government policies and better social safety nets.

Food insecurity and the resulting hunger and malnutrition can severely affect kids’ cognitive development, attention span, and academic performance. The pressures of financial insecurity leave many parents without the time or resources to adequately support their child’s education. Teachers in schools serving disadvantaged communities that experience these stressors are subject to increasing burnout from the additional burdens placed on them to educate kids living in poverty.


  1. Increase social safety net for all low-income, vulnerable populations.
    1. Better serve immigrants and their families

    2. Raise the State of Illinois’ benefit level for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

    3. Make expanded Federal Child Tax Credit permanent

    4. Provide more adequate SNAP benefits

  2. Make Cook County’s Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot Program permanent.


The Importance of CPS in Chicago Life

CPS plays a huge role in Chicagoans' lives; from educating our children, employing our residents, and investing taxpayer dollars in our city’s future, at least 1 in 5 Chicago households are connected to CPS. Chicago Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the U.S. It educates over 300 thousand students and a disproportionately large share of high-needs students in Illinois.

CPS serves about 18% of the K-12 students in Illinois, but nearly 1-in-3 of all low-income and English Learner students, and 40% of all housing-insecure students. It takes about 45,000 employees to operate a district of this size and need. That amounts to approximately 30% of all government positions in the State of Illinois. That is more government positions than it takes to run some of the largest cities in the U.S., including Philadelphia and Houston.

Turning Recommendations Into Solutions

Our sincere hope is that the insights presented in this report series will serve as a foundation for meaningful conversations, innovative solutions, and collaborative efforts. Chicago is a city of boundless potential. Together, we have the power to address these challenges head-on, create an environment where families thrive, and welcome newcomers with open arms.

It is time to unite our public and private sectors, civic organizations, and community leaders in a common purpose – making Chicago a magnet for families.


Kids First Chicago would first like to thank the members of the Enrollment Solutions Design Team for their skillful and dedicated leadership through the project’s demanding multi-year process.

We extend our appreciation to the 163 parents who participated in our nine parent-led workshops. Each participant provided a distinct experience and view on the issues considered.

Vanessa Espinoza, a parent on the ESDT and dual-language specialist on the project, provided invaluable support throughout the engagement process and played a key role in preparing materials for the project team and the entire design team with a commitment to accuracy and inclusion.

This project was led by several Kids First Chicago staff members including Hal Woods, Micaelan Gasperich, Jasmin Pizano Luna, Kendall Moore-Fields, Dr. José Pacas, Dr. Chris Poulos, and Kristin Pollock.


Katrina Adams, Avalon Park

Luz María Flores, Back of the Yards

Jamica Holliness, North Lawndale

Lilia Guevara, McKinley Park

Taschaunda Hall, North Lawndale

Karonda Locust, Austin

Lorena López, Back of the Yards

Melanie Lopez, Jefferson Park

Consuelo Martinez, Back of the Yards

Guadalupe Ojeda, Rogers Park

Tierra Pearson, Austin

Brenda Rivera, Humboldt Park

Maria Sanchez, Chicago Lawn

Alma Silva-Sigala, Back of the Yards

Cata P. Truss, Austin

Carolina Velarde, Back of the Yards

Andrea Zayas, Humboldt Park