The path to safe communities free of poverty and inequity runs through the schoolhouse door. While we are taking immediate steps to deal with violence, the choice to make lasting systemic change has seldom been closer. When lawmakers return to Springfield in mid-April to begin their final deliberations on the state budget, they can choose to provide more educational opportunities for all Illinois students, especially those from our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. While I am a strong advocate for Catholic education, I am also an advocate for families who choose public school education. Everybody wins when parents, who know their children best, have the opportunity to pick the schools that meet their childrens needs. Lawmakers have three specific actions they can take this spring to strengthen quality educational opportunities for all children. First, lawmakers can increase public education funding. In 2017, they passed the evidence-based funding formula, or EBF, that scrapped an archaic method of funding K-12 education and transformed the formula to one that met more students needs. That historic legislation was a win-win for both public school students and those low-income families hoping to choose private schools for their children. As Catholic bishops of Illinois said at the time, The governor and other elected officials deserve our praise for turning an out-of-date school funding blueprint into a distribution formula that is both fair and equitable across the state. By every objective standard, EBF is working as intended to reduce funding gaps between low-income and wealthy school districts. Since evidenced-based funding started, the number of underfunded districts has declined. Public school districts have been provided with more than $1.6 billion in additional money, with 99% of it going to historically underfunded districts. I urge lawmakers to preserve this extraordinary progress. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has recommended $506 million in increases to K-12 public education including an additional $350 million in EBF funding for this year, and I commend him for his recommendation. However, state forecasters indicate that this year, revenue is coming into state coffers at a level higher than originally projected. There is an opportunity to increase EBF funding above $350 million, which would do even more to help Illinois families. The sooner we take concrete steps to invest in our schools, the sooner we will see every school district fully funded and the educational attainment proved to benefit our children and our society increase. Second, the governors education plan also included increasing state funding to recruit teachers from diverse communities and an additional $100 million for the Monetary Award Program. Last year, the MAP program provided 145,000 grants to low-income students to help pay tuition at a public or private college, university or trade school in Illinois. Access to higher education can lift all Illinois students to better outcomes, and I urge representatives and senators to increase MAP funding in this years budget. Finally, the Invest in Kids Acts Tax Credit Scholarship Program expires soon. That program, which was part of the improvements to EBF in 2017, has provided nearly 40,000 scholarships to low-income families so their children could attend the nonpublic elementary and secondary school they determined would best serve them. Demand for the program is so strong that for every child granted a scholarship, three students remained on a waiting list. I implore the General Assembly to recognize that Illinois children are unique individuals deserving of the best chance we can provide for a better life. Tax credit scholarships have provided that chance to children from across the state, including children of color and those with exceptional abilities. Let us take advantage of this years opportunity to increase education funding and honor the promise to make our childrens future our priority. Cardinal Blase Cupich was appointed by Pope Francis to be the ninth archbishop of Chicago in 2014 and a cardinal in 2016. He is a co-chair of the Dialogue with Muslims for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email