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Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez poses with supporters of CPS in Springfield

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez joined CPS supporters recently in Springfield. Board of Education President Jianan Shi and Martinez said they spoke with Illinois Senate and House leaders, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, about Senate Bill 2943 when they traveled to the capital last week.

Nader Issa/Sun-Times file

120 Chicago public schools could lose after-school programs this summer

Illinois mistakenly overspent its latest round of funding and will run out of money for hundreds of programs that serve about 15,000 kids in Chicago. The programs’ advocates encourage state lawmakers to intervene.

Advocates say more than 120 Chicago Public Schools stand to lose vital after-school programs this summer due to a funding error by state officials and are calling on leaders in Springfield and Chicago to keep the initiatives running.

For decades, these programs have been funded through a federal grant. But Illinois mistakenly overspent its latest round of funding and will run out of money for hundreds of programs statewide that serve around 40,000 students, including about 15,000 kids in Chicago.

A coalition of community groups rallied outside CPS downtown offices Thursday ahead of the monthly Board of Education meeting to draw attention to the impending losses. After-school program advocates encouraged state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 2943, which would allocate $50 million to support the programs statewide. This is separate from general education funding for which CPS, the Chicago Teachers Union and community groups have lobbied.

Lindsey Ridley said she wants a better childhood for her daughter at Parkside Academy in South Shore than she had for herself, and after-school programs are key in that goal.

“Not bringing in community partners, and trying to shrink the options students have instead of growing them, it’s a domino effect,” Ridley said. “It falls out of the schools and into the neighborhoods.”

“Parents constantly make sacrifices to better their children,” Ridley said. “But time and time again, I see us shortchanged by Chicago Public Schools, by the Board of Education. I can’t shortchange my mortgage. I can’t shortchange my rent. I can’t shortchange my bank. So why should I shortchange my daughter’s education?”

Board of Education President Jianan Shi and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said they spoke with Illinois Senate and House leaders, as well as Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, about SB 2943 when they traveled to Springfield last week.

Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, one of the groups rallying Thursday, acknowledged the legislative session is set to wrap up this week. He said the city and school district must find money for these programs elsewhere if the bill doesn’t pass.

“Now’s the time to come up with a plan B,” Brosnan said. “We cannot allow the kind of fundamental infrastructure in these 123 schools in Chicago to kind of break away. We have to sustain that.”

Chicago has used a lot of the federal funding to pay for “community schools,” where a coordinator brings in organizations and programs for myriad purposes, such as violence prevention, academic support for students, social emotional learning, English as a second language classes for parents and health care clinics for the community.

“We know they work,” Brosnan said. “They do exactly what they are supposed to do.”

He pointed out that Mayor Brandon Johnson is a big supporter of community schools and ran on a platform of expanding a more robust model called “sustainable community schools.” Brosnan said the mayor now needs to make these programs a priority and not simply blame the state for not funding them.

Angel Flores, a resource coordinator at Shields Elementary, said the programs there have taught students about 3D printing, allowed them to build robots and provided opportunities to explore Chicago. A partnership with the nonprofit Girls on the Run helped more than 50 girls complete a 5K race and gave 39 girls a free pair of gym shoes, Flores said.

“The impact of our after-school program has been so significant for many students and their families,” Flores said.

Dara Munson, president and CEO of the advocacy group Family Focus, said these “transformative” after-school programs are crucial to keeping kids safe during the peak hours of violence and crime by and against teens. She said the groups have found 72% of regularly participating students have improved their academic performance, and 88% of parents have reported positive changes in their children’s behavior as a result of after-school programming.

“That is what we are taking from these young people,” Munson said. “We know that that harm may be irreversible.”

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ.

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