Calling on Chicago Leaders to Invest More in Early Learning in 2025

In this blog post, Kyrsten Emanuel, Senior Policy Manager, provides an overview of early childhood advocates’ budget asks for the City of Chicago for fiscal year 2025.

Kyrsten Emanuel July 10, 2024
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

Investments in early care and education (ECE) are critical to ensuring our city’s youngest learners are healthy, developmentally on track, and arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and thrive. Start Early and its advocate partners are calling on Mayor Johnson’s administration to make key investments in Chicago’s ECE system to strengthen the governance structure of Chicago’s mixed-delivery system, build and sustain the full spectrum of the early childhood workforce and modernize our shared early childhood data infrastructure. 

Strengthen the governance and infrastructure of Chicago’s mixed-delivery ECE system

Invest in the City’s capacity to lead ECE initiatives by increasing funds for ECE-focused staff in the Mayor’s Office and dedicating city funds to the implementation of the Every Child Ready Chicago strategic framework.  

Meeting the needs of both families and the whole child through a unified prenatal-to-five system requires coordination across multiple city departments, communitybased organizations and community stakeholders. We recommend investing city funds to support additional roles in the Mayor’s Office that can focus on key areas of coordination—family engagement and outreach, workforce, public-private partnerships and data—staffed with subject matter experts representing communities facing historical disinvestment.  

Strengthen the existing Chicago Early Learning referral system to address inequities and improve efficiency by increasing funding for outreach and improved data use for the hotline and centralized application. 

Part of the Chicago Early Learning infrastructure, the hotline assists tens of thousands of families in navigating the array of available early learning options that they can apply to using a centralized application. Adequate funding coupled with consistent ongoing data and information on all available options between CPS and community-based ECE providers will aid in filling empty slots, reducing waitlists and addressing inequities.

Increase investments in community collaborations conducting outreach on the ground to understand families’ needs and desires and match them with appropriate programs and services.  

We recommend increasing support for the two existing community collaborations and funding additional collaborations in communities identified with under-enrollment in early learning programs. The focus on the community-level ensures the outreach is tailored and accessible to its families’ needs, including those with language barriers and cultural differences like many of the newly arrived migrants, and that community-identified challenges, such as lack of slots for 3 year olds, can be surfaced and addressed.  


Take Action

Contact your alderman now to ask them to support an increase in investments for early care and education in the 2025 Chicago budget.

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Build and sustain the full spectrum of ECE workforce 

Increase the City’s Corporate Fund investment in the Chicago Early Learning Workforce Scholarship (CELWS) by $15M to help address the early childhood workforce crisis and close the ever-growing funding gap between demand and availability of the scholarship.  

The City of Chicago is experiencing an early childhood workforce crisis that predates—but was also greatly exacerbated by—the pandemic. A direct way to create accessible pathways for new educators is to increase funding for CELWS through the allocation to the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) budget that comes from the City’s Corporate Fund. The scholarship supports approximately 600 students each year—around 200 new awardees plus those continuing – which historically represents just over half of the number of applications received.  

Acknowledge the critical work of early childhood professionals by dedicating City funding to increase support and compensation for the workforce through premium pay or short-term investments.   

As the City works to structurally and sustainably address the gap in pay parity between educators in school-based early childhood settings and community-based settings in the long-term, funds from the city budget should be used to increase compensation for these essential workers in the short-term. The City should consider premium pay or short-term investments in compensation for early childhood workers—including those working in center-based and family child care homes, Early Interventionists, home visitors and doulas—that other cities have adopted. 

Dedicate Corporate Fund investment to Family Connects Chicago (FCC) to sustain investment in its critical operations currently funded through expiring American Rescue Plan Act funds.  

FCC is a universal newborn support model that combats disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes by offering a nurse home visit to every birthing family in Chicago. Administered by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), this program serves as one of the earliest components of the prenatal-to-five system.  

Continue investment in the modernization of Chicago’s early childhood data infrastructure  

Invest City funds in the Chicago Early Childhood Integrated Data System (CECIDS) to ensure this public good is providing real-time, accurate data that is essential to advancing a clear understanding of the City’s ECE landscape and equity in accessibility.  

Chicago’s 180,000 young children, ages birth through 5 are served through a variety of early childhood programs and funding streams, each with its own data system, set of eligibility guidelines and compliance requirements. CECIDS was developed out of an imperative to mitigate this fragmentation that exacerbates inequities and limits program improvement. CECIDS bridges the gaps between disparate early childhood programs and funding streams, offering an integrated platform that provides all stakeholders insight on Chicago’s progress towards its goals for equitable access to high quality early childhood education and care and fair compensation for the early childhood workforce and continuing the City’s $529,000 investment in its sustainability is paramount.  

Contact your Alderman now to ask them to support an increase in investments for early care and education in the 2025 Chicago budget.

About the Author

Kyrsten Emanuel

Kyrsten Emanuel

Senior Policy Manager, Illinois Policy

Kyrsten leads Illinois’ advocacy strategies related to health and the City of Chicago.

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