Just one month in, 2021 promises to be a busy and exciting year for POWER-PAC Illinois! Last week, the group’s Governing Council, consisting of campaign chairs and branch delegates, gathered (virtually, of course) for the first time this year. While acknowledging that 2020 was a challenging year in a lot of ways, most of the parent leaders expressed hope and optimism about the new federal administration and are as committed as ever to building and leveraging their collective strength across Illinois.
POWER-PAC IL (PPAC-IL) is a cross-cultural, statewide membership organization of COFI-trained parent leaders in Illinois who build power to make policy and systems changes that make everyday differences in the lives of Black and Brown families. POWER-PAC IL members (who live in the West and South Sides of Chicago, as well as Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, and Evanston) work on issues of importance to children and families, divided into four campaigns.
Here are the latest updates from each:
Elementary Justice Campaign
COFI/POWER-PAC IL was selected as one of five community organizations to work with Chicago Public Schools on the Whole School Safety Program. The framework aims to develop a menu of trauma-informed approaches to school safety as alternatives to having police based in schools.
In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the return to in-person schooling, parent leaders continue to work with school officials to address remote learning concerns, particularly for students with special needs and English Language Learners.
Early Learning Campaign
The campaign is celebrating important legislative victories passed during the brief lame-duck legislative session this month! When the Governor signs the bill, there will be specialized Early Intervention (helping children from birth to three years old with disabilities or delays to learn and grow) to ensure services wherever families live—a recommendation that parents developed and negotiated over the past few years. Also, children who turn three during the summer will be able to remain in Early Intervention one more year.
The Illinois Family Advisory Committee within the Governor’s Early Learning Council has launched. COFI is providing training for its 16 members and POWER-PAC IL parent leaders are among those serving as mentors.
Parents are advocating for the creation of one early childhood agency that coordinates all of the state’s programs, maintaining a stance that POWER-PAC IL proposed over a decade ago.
Health, Food, and Recess Campaign
Members across POWER-PAC IL branches are voicing concerns about low quality school meals (using expired or highly processed foods that their children won’t eat) during the pandemic. Parents in Elgin and Evanston are taking the lead on this, working with school district officials to improve food offerings.
The campaign is also working on issues of mental health and trauma-prevention for children. Six POWER-PAC IL leaders are a part of the Illinois ACEs Collaborative’s Working Group to Address Childhood Adversity, which is exploring trauma and ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and will make recommendations to the state to better respond to children and families impacted by trauma. COFI/POWER-PAC IL is also working with partners in Kane County, East St. Louis, and Chicago to increase parent voice and engagement around planning and delivery of children’s (and maternal/infant) mental health programming.
Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign
The STOP campaign is also excited about winning critical legislative reforms in the lame-duck session this month! We urge the Governor to rapidly sign the bill that will assure that predatory lenders can no longer charge interest above 36% (the average was 300% prior to the bill’s passage). Cash bail and driver’s license suspensions due to traffic and automated camera tickets will be ended. These issues, long advocated for by POWER-PAC IL, are part of the criminal and economic justice reforms spearheaded by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
The campaign is also focused on lowering utility costs and debt. The Solar Ambassadors reached out to 150 people and hosted a Solar Forum in December, attended by 60+ people. A new Utility Working Group has formed, focusing on supporting legislation to make utilities more affordable for everyone—including reining in the over-spending for the Peoples Gas pipe replacement program in the Chicago area.
This fall, the STOP campaign also hosted two statewide community forums on the need to reform the state’s Earned Income Credit and expand it to immigrant families and unpaid caregivers in Illinois, among others.