ABOVE: In June, parent leader Dexter Leggin spoke at a press conference where a city ordinance was announced to end police presence in schools.
In 2020, COFI discovered what it means to community organize during a global pandemic. From helping neighbors to winning momentous legislative victories, POWER-PAC IL parent leaders rose to the occasion again and again. And as we celebrate our 25th anniversary at COFI, our work shows no signs of slowing down but, instead, aims to expand to the national stage and grow our staff and capacity.
Here are the year’s highlights (and this is by no means everything):
In the spring, we rapidly adapted our work to the new realities of the spread of Covid-19. In-person gatherings went virtual and were quickly but thoughtfully redesigned. This year, despite the pandemic, over 300 parents participated in leadership trainings and events on issues like solar energy, utility debt, and economic security.
Local organizing shifted to the online space, and COFI worked hard to make this happen. Staff reached out to parents and offered support to meet and organize remotely (including securing technology and training parents to use Zoom). To address Covid’s devastating effects on local communities, COFI engaged parents in reaching out to their neighbors and helped connect families with remote learning technology resources, safety and health resources, emergency cash payments (including helping distribute cash payments to over 200 families), debt relief, and moratoriums on utility shut-offs. Parent leaders also pivoted to a strong focus on school re-opening and remote learning policies and procedures. They worked actively in 9 different local school districts across Illinois, serving in task forces and meeting with school administrators.
Through all of this, COFI and POWER-PAC IL developed a pandemic crisis policy response called Fighting for Our Families.
POWER-PAC IL CAMPAIGNS
Although most of the campaign work was conducted virtually this year, parent leaders still made impressive strides forward, winning huge victories along the way.
Elementary Justice Campaign:
- Advocated for a vastly reduced (and even eliminated) police presence in schools
- In Chicago, won a significant reduction in the school police budget, with 17 high schools cancelling their police contracts, and now working with CPS to develop alternatives to police presence
Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign:
- POWER-PAC IL members continued to work with Mayor Lightfoot’s team to push for significant reductions in fees and fines—especially in light of the pandemic
- Parent leaders also shared their stories with state legislators, urging the state to come through with emergency cash for families, particularly those left out of the federal stimulus package and winning $90 million in state funding for immigrant services, including cash
- In July, the campaign won a huge settlement with the Illinois Commerce Commission to make utility bills fairer and more transparent
Early Learning Campaign:
- Launched the long fought for Family Advisory Committee within the Governor’s Early Learning Council; 100 parents applied to serve on FAC, and 16 were selected and now being trained by COFI
- Actively made recommendations to the state’s new 0 to 3 plan, including informing the move to telehealth early intervention service delivery
- With national partners, advocated for increased childcare funding securing $10 billion in the year-end federal package just approved
Recess, Food, and Health Campaign:
- Won a state commitment to a pandemic benefit expanding SNAP for current recipients and immigrant families
- Worked with school districts and families across the state to assure that school meals were being distributed to families
GROWTH, OUTREACH, AND PARENT LEADERS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
- For our 25th anniversary, launched our new Center for Action and Learning (an outgrowth of the former COFI Institute) to provide information, workshops, and networking for organizers, staff, and parent leaders of organizations across the USA
- Completed the first ever virtual trainings on the COFI model, with participants from Illinois, Michigan, and Washington State
- Conducted outreach to over 35,000 doors and calls around early learning resources, Census 2020, and grassroots solar opportunities
- 5 new individuals (with 3 more soon to come) joined the COFI and/or UPLAN staff, building capacity and expanding our reach
- Parent leaders and COFI staff presented at many webinars and conferences this year, including the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Rise Up for Equity conference, a Start Early webinar on reducing racial disparities in Chicago preschool enrollment, and the Chicago Consortium for School Research conference on transformational education
Wow! This is a lot, and again, we couldn’t even include it all! As we rest a bit and take time to reflect on what has been an altogether difficult and unusual 2020, one thing is for certain: we are incredibly proud of what parent leaders accomplished despite all of the challenges thrown at them this year. We are hopeful and optimistic for a better 2021, and we can’t wait to see the amazing things our parents will achieve in the upcoming year.