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Illinois Early Childhood Racial Equity Efforts & Resources

State of Illinois’ Commitment to Racial Equity

Healing Illinois Initiative
In October 2020, Governor JB Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton announced the Healing Illinois Initiative in response to the racial disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust (the Trust), the Healing Illinois Initiative provides an opportunity for residents of communities across the State that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 to engage in meaningful dialogue. Illinois has allocated $4.5 million to provide grants to community-based organizations of all sizes to help create community-centric, inclusive spaces to talk, learn, and grow. The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is overseeing the new grant program.

Click here for the press release announcing the Healing Illinois Initiative. Please visit the Healing Illinois: Building a Bridge to a Racially Equitable Illinois webpage for updates on the Initiative, information on the funding recipients, Healing Illinois events near you, and racial healing tools and resources.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work at the State Level

The Morten Group was retained to work with all Illinois State Agency leaders and staff using a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Framework, a racial equity framework that clearly articulates racial equity, implicit and explicit bias, and individual, institutional, and structural racism. To initiate the work, State Agencies worked with the Morten Group to implement institution-wide DEI staff trainings in August 2020. Following the staff trainings, Agency DEI Staff Committees were established to develop DEI plans for their respective programs and portfolios. The DEI plans include objectives, strategies, timeline, accountability, performance measures, and a progress report. Also included in the workplans is a broader communications strategy that includes: (1) research/assessment findings; (2) DEI Action Plan; and (3) annual updates.

As continued evidence of the Administration’s commitment to DEI, in April 2021, the Office of the Governor announced the appointment of Dr. Sekile M. Nzinga as Chief Diversity Officer to provide direction, guidance, and support to the Governor’s Office and all State Agencies on strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout Illinois government, including in the provision of constituent services and programming. Job responsibilities of the Chief Diversity Officer include identifying new programming and initiatives to foster DEI throughout state government, identify and supporting implementation of best practices to make State Agencies more accessible to diverse constituents, and supporting State Agencies’ outreach teams to promote accessible and culturally competent outreach to diverse constituent groups.

In July 2021, Governor Pritzker issued an Executive Order creating a new Office of Equity to promote DEI across state government. By creating a standalone Office of Equity, the Chief Equity Officer will serve as a leader in creating more equitable systems and opportunity for State employees and all residents. The office will create sustainable procedures for State Agencies by making DEI resources available to all State employees, in turn better serving Illinois residents. This includes coordinating DEI trainings to reflect best practices and working to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace. To ensure lasting benefits, the office will establish tangible goals by developing statewide DEI benchmarks to measure progress.

Then in August 2021, Governor Pritzker signed legislation establishing the Welcome Illinois Office and expanding protections for immigrant and refugee communities. The new laws strengthen the TRUST Act and make Illinois the second state in the nation to require local officials to end partnerships with ICE, address hate crimes against immigrant communities, expand workplace protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and create the Illinois Immigration Impact Task Force to ensure state programs and policies best serve immigrant residents.

Racial Equity Work of the Illinois Early Learning Council (ELC)

The goal of the Illinois Early Learning Council is to build more equitable early childhood systems in order to fulfill the vision of a statewide, high-quality, accessible, and comprehensive early learning and development system based on the principles of equity and social, racial/ethnic, and economic justice so all young children whose parents/families choose it benefit. As part of the Council’s work, it shall identify and recommend to the Governor and Illinois’ State Agencies the elimination of disparities (e.g. race/ethnicity, social class, gender, geographic) due to systemic factors that may hinder the development of young children.

With support from the Illinois BUILD State Team, the ELC Executive Committee, through two full-day retreats and dedicated time at regularly scheduled meetings, has accomplished the following to date:

  • Agreed on a definition of racial equity in early childhood (July 2018)
  • Formed an ad hoc governance workgroup of the ELC to apply racial equity priorities to membership and governing principles (July 2018)
  • Defined priorities/objectives to achieve in addressing racial disparities in the early childhood system and agreed to apply a set of questions from Race Forward to all discussions and recommendations considered by the ELC (July 2019)
  • Presented on racial equity work to all ELC Committees and Subcommittees and completed modified work plans to align with the racial equity priorities and objectives (Fall 2019)
  • Applied the racial equity definition, objectives, and key questions to the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) Needs Assessment and Strategic Plan and the Prenatal to Three Initiative (PN3) Policy Agenda (December 2019)
  • Completed a survey to inform next steps for advancing racial equity work in an embedded manner within the ELC (February 2020)
  • Early Learning Council Executive Committee members participated in three session Racial Healing Circles led and facilitated by the Wood’s Funds Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Initiative (November & December 2020)

Early Learning Council Racial Equity Definition (Adopted July 2018)

A racially equitable society values and embraces all racial/ethnic identities. In such a society, one's racial/ethnic identity (particularly Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian) is not a factor in an individual's ability to prosper.

An early learning system that is racially equitable is driven by data and ensures that:

  • Every young child and family regardless of race, ethnicity, and social circumstance has everything s/he/they need to develop optimally;
  • Resources, opportunities, rewards, and burdens are fairly distributed across groups and communities so that those with the greatest challenges are adequately supported and not further disadvantaged; and
  • Systems and policies are designed, reframed, or eliminated to promote greater justice for children and families.

Early Learning Council Racial Equity Priorities (Adopted July 2019)

  1. Align and standardize race/ethnicity data collection and reporting;
  2. Evaluate and identify whether processes for distributing resources exacerbate racial disparities, including agency contracting;
  3. Address racial/ethnic disparities in terms of workforce compensation and advancement;
  4. Eliminate racial/ethnic disparities for children participating in all programs that contribute to school readiness and life success by addressing racial disparities in enrollment in preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and in prenatal to age 3 services.

Race Forward Racial Equity Impact Assessment Questions

A Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) is a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision. REIAs are used to minimize unanticipated adverse consequences in a variety of contexts, including the analysis of proposed policies, institutional practices, programs, plans and budgetary decisions. The REIA can be a vital tool for preventing institutional racism and for identifying new options to remedy long-standing inequities.

REIAs are best conducted during the decision-making process, prior to enacting new proposals. The Early Learning Council will use the following questions to reduce, eliminate, and prevent racial discrimination and inequities in their decision-making.

  • What adverse impacts or unintended consequences could result from this policy?
  • Which racial/ethnic groups could be negatively affected?
  • How could adverse impacts be prevented or minimalized?
  • What positive impacts on equity and inclusion, if any, could result from this proposal?
  • Which racial/ethnic groups could benefit?
  • Are there further ways to maximize equitable opportunities and impacts?
  • Are there better ways to reduce racial disparities and advance racial equity?
  • What provisions could be changed or added to ensure positive impacts on racial equity and inclusion?

Click here for the ELC Racial Equity One-Pager that includes the Early Learning Council's racial equity definition, priorities, and the Race Forward Race Equity Impact Assessment questions.

Racial Equity and the Early Childhood Funding Commission

In December 2019, the Governor established the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding ("Early Childhood Funding Commission"). The Commission shall study and make recommendations to establish funding goals and funding mechanisms to provide equitable access to high-quality early childhood education and care services for all children birth to age five and advise the Governor in planning and implementing these recommendations. The Commission will submit these recommendations to the Governor in March 2021.

The Commission adopted the Early Learning Council's definition of racial equity and additionally established a Racial Equity Working Group whose charge is to: evaluate the Commission's draft recommendations using a racial equity lens; and recommend revisions, implementation guidance, or accountability guidance to the Commission. The Racial Equity Working Group's evaluation will be inspired by the Chicago United for Equity (CUE) Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA).

The Racial Equity Work Group presented a draft of their Recommended Analysis: Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding to the full Commission on December 8, 2020. The final report is expected in March 2021.

Early Childhood Racial Equity Tools & Resources

Articles, Reports & Websites


Data Snapshot (Illinois)

Films & Videos

Talks, Presentations & Podcasts