Chicago Policy

Chicago Policy

Chicago has an obligation to provide school environments that promote student health and allow all students to learn and thrive.

Current Agenda

Healthy school environments are essential to academic success and allow students to reach their full potential. Creating these environments requires local policies that supply schools with basic safety, good nutrition, physical activity, clean air and water, and access to health services. While Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has made progress toward these aims, there remain major structural issues in the city that reinforce profound inequities in schools serving low-income children of color. Mayor Lori Lightfoot can work to redress these disparities by supporting policies and practices that create conditions to improve student health.

Recommendations for Chicago’s Next Mayor

Our current agenda was developed before Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office in 2019 and provided guidance to her administration. Download “Recommendations for the Chicago’s Next Mayor” to learn more.

District Policy

CPS has a long history of implementing policies to support student health – an effort that is critical to promoting effective learning and student success. But the district’s physical education requirements are not implemented consistently across the district, and more can be done to integrate health and wellness into accountability metrics, facilities plans and other policies.

HSC recommends Lightfoot and CPS officials:

  • Strengthen CPS’s policy and practices so all students receive the recommended amount of high-quality PE.
  • Integrate health and wellness into school planning and accountability programs, including school improvement plans and School Quality Ratings, to ensure schools have the resources they need.
  • Ensure school facilities support student health by fully funding Space to Grow to redevelop schoolyards, and funding school building upgrades that provide adequate health offices, gym spaces, and kitchens that can prepare healthy food.
  • Ensure school facilities are properly maintained to promote student health, including healthy indoor air and safe drinking water.
  • Improve Local School Council training to better support the district’s health policies.

Access to Health Services

Increasing access to school physical and mental health services is critical to reaching underserved children and supporting their academic achievement. Yet CPS has too few school health professionals to meet its students’ needs. Opportunities exist for the district to bolster school health services by fostering greater collaboration with local healthcare providers. Changes to federal policy also could allow CPS to leverage Medicaid funding for health services, but Illinois Medicaid-spending rules need to be amended first.

HSC recommends Lightfoot and CPS officials:

  • Ensure schools are adequately staffed with trained health service providers that meet students’ needs.
  • Develop a citywide strategy to improve collaboration between CPS, health service providers and community organizations. Develop policies and processes for sharing student health data with health service providers that protect student privacy.
  • Advocate for a State Medicaid Plan Amendment allowing schools to receive reimbursement for services delivered to Medicaid-enrolled students.

Green Schoolyards

Green schoolyards promote physical activity, nutrition education, outdoor learning and connection with nature—all of which support students’ wellbeing. Chicago’s 650 public schools contain hundreds of acres of impermeable surface area that could become green spaces capable of serving entire communities.

HSC recommends Lightfoot and CPS officials:

  • Support Space to Grow, a citywide partnership to transform Chicago schoolyards into places that support outdoor play and active learning. Ensure full funding of Chicago’s share of Space to Grow’s commitment to build 34 schoolyards. Support expanding this program across CPS.
  • Create an inter-agency citywide taskforce to oversee maintenance needs and preservation of public green infrastructure and spaces, including green schoolyards.
  • Support policies that encourage community access to schoolyards.

Nutritious School Food

The CPS school meal program is the nation’s third largest K-12 food service operation, helping the 80 percent of district students who come from economically-disadvantaged families. Research shows that improved nutrition in schools leads to increased focus and improved test scores. CPS become a national leader in providing healthy school meals. However, more can be done.

HSC recommends Lightfoot and CPS officials:

  • Continue the district’s commitment to a school meal program that exceeds federal standards and follows national dietary guidelines.
  • Expand CPS’ supply chain for local and sustainable food and by serving less-processed meals.
  • Continue to expand transparency around the district’s school food program by strengthening efforts to involve CPS students and parents in improving school meals.
  • Continue to implement the Good Food Purchasing Policy at CPS and other city agencies to support and enhance existing innovative initiatives, including sourcing local and sustainably produced items, eliminating artificial additives, and reducing salt, added sugars and saturated fats.