Children need stable funding to build equity in education

  • Dick Malone

    Dick Malone

Updated 9/18/2020 11:54 AM

In the current era of social distancing, many employers have hailed the "work from home" model as the new workplace solution. Aided by technology, the need for the traditional office has been practically eliminated. However, not all working parents have the luxury of choosing to work remotely, including many of those that we serve at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

With over a dozen Y centers, five overnight camps, and early childhood education extension sites throughout the city and suburbs, we serve more than 220,000 individuals and families annually, helping them learn, grow, and thrive through research-based programs. I also write on behalf of the Early Childhood Education CEO Roundtable, a leadership group of 14 mostly minority-led and -staffed community nonprofits serving tens of thousands of children and families across Chicagoland. As we resume in-person programming, continue distance learning, family support check-ins, and distribution of food and essential supplies, our high-quality early childhood programs ensure Chicago's working families can return to their jobs -- many in the retail and service industries considered essential to this economy.


As we rebuild from this pandemic and global recession amid a reignited civil rights movement, we recognize that physical safety is only part of what's needed to open early childhood programs safely. It will take significant public and private investment to erase the ZIP code disadvantage baked into our early childhood education system, when the burden of COVID-19 continues to weigh most heavily on communities already suffering from educational inequity.

Today, 83% of Chicago Public Schools students come from low-income households and only one in every four kids is ready for kindergarten across Illinois. While we work to bridge the opportunity gap, our efforts to promote equity are swamped by critical responses to COVID-19. We are adding remote engagement and family support, including mental health interventions, while facing decreasing enrollment and more absences.

COVID-19 is destabilizing our classrooms. Without stable funding, we won't be able to continue to provide critical, equity-building education and child care. We call on our funding partners to draw on our experience as community representatives to inform the allocation of resources that can lead our children to a more equitable future.

We commend Gov. Pritzker's restoration of state funding to early childhood education providers. But more needs to be done. We ask all state leaders to continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for more resources, including relaxing the Childcare Assistance Program monthly attendance requirement from 79.5% to 50% due to COVID-19-related absences through 2020. And we need the allocation of resources from the CARES ACT and other early childhood education funding to be increased so that we can more aggressively address inequities.

Now is the time for radical change to ensure that our children have a better world than the one they are witnessing today. In the days and weeks ahead, we'll see more ways in which responding to systemic racism requires us to learn and unlearn how we live and work together as Chicagoans. We remain committed to that effort in partnership with public and private funders, and with an endless commitment to our families who trust us to advocate -- now and as long as inequities exist.

•Richard Malone is President and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Chicago and a member of the Early Childhood Education CEO Roundtable,

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.