May 29, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Will state find $50M for community-based after-school and summer programs?

Numbers tell a story, but rarely without help.

A coalition of community-based organizations – Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, etc. – rallied at the Statehouse Tuesday to ask lawmakers to appropriate $50 million for afterschool and summer programs. The problem, according to Capitol News Illinois, is a 2023 State Board of Education miscalculation of available federal funding. That led to awarding too many grants.

At the end of fiscal 2023, programs affecting 6,000 closed for lack of money. The advocates say another 40,000 students could be shut out as of June 30.

Senate Bill 2943 would cover the funding from the general revenue fund. State Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, filed the bill Jan. 31. With 15 co-sponsors, it’s been in the Appropriations-Education Committee since Feb. 6.

Using round numbers, we’re at $1,250 per affected student. Many people reading this are spending considerably more than that for their kids’ summer activities, but that’s a substantial sum for those facing the loss of tutoring, recreation and other programming that keeps children safe and occupied.

One source for funding could be the $75 million Illinois paid via tax credits through the Invest in Kids Scholarship, which lawmakers allowed to expire Dec. 31. When advocates for that program pushed for an expansion, they said the funding covered 9,500 students. That worked out to $7,900 per kid, or $877 in each of the school year’s nine months.

Clearly full-day education is more expensive than after-school care or summer programs, but politically it might be easier to argue for spending $50 million on 40,000 kids than issuing $75 million in tax credits for 9,500. Or maybe lawmakers could revive the credits for a different purpose and see if donors come back to the table to invest in other kids.

It must be said that in both cases – community centers or private schools – nothing prevents the providing organizations from soliciting their own funding to bridge gaps, other than potentially tapped contributor wells.

The CNI report also explained the current budget proposal would allocate $234 million (mostly federal money) to school districts for their own after-school programming. The community-based programs exist to cover gaps, but that means their money must come from a different pool, even if ISBE oversees everything.

That reality helps sort this issue along with others where it’s fair to question operating efficiency. As lawmakers Thursday advanced plans for creating a new state agency to administer every early childhood service, is it time to explore a better way to deliver everything tangentially school-related but outside the conventional academic day?

Those long-term discussions won’t help the 40,000 kids whose programs face the fiscal cliff, but it’s a big enough mistake that a one-time fix possibly obscures a larger challenge.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.