A miscalculation by the state of Illinois is putting in jeopardy after-school programs that serve about 27,000 students across the state.
That’s according to ACT Now, a statewide advocacy organization for Illinois after-school programs.
Staff from many of these threatened programs, spanning from Chicago to East Moline to Vermillion County, will be in Springfield Wednesday to testify at the monthly Illinois State Board of Education meeting.
They plan to ask lawmakers and the state board to allocate state funds to cover the state’s error as it administered federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, which are provided to community organizations. They also want them to investigate how the error occurred to prevent it from happening again.
During the pandemic, the state awarded a new set of programs 21st Century grants and allowed organizations to keep unspent money, not realizing this would result in insufficient funding to continue funding longtime recipients. ISBE estimates this could result in a shortfall of up to $15 million.
“ISBE did not adequately forecast the fiscal impact of these programmatic decisions,” spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said in a statement “ISBE is in the process of establishing new internal fiscal and communications protocols to prevent this type of situation moving forward.”
The state recently told some organizations their grants wouldn’t be renewed after they expired this year, and there would be no application for new grants. This group of recipients had been receiving about $9.7 million, with some getting these grants for decades.
Another group of grantees were promised $15 million through next school year, but the state admits it doesn’t have any 21st Century money left. The Illinois State Board of Education says it has asked the U.S. Department of Education if other money could be made available.
Chicago Public Schools officials say they will use federal COVID-19 relief funds to backfill the grants for community organizations that provide programming in the district. Spokeswoman Mary Fergus said after-school programming is “one important strategy to support student growth and well being.”
Patrick Brosnan, executive director at Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said he is relieved CPS will provide funding for programs losing their grant. His organization uses 21st Century grants to provide freshman transition programs at Curie High School, as well as a myriad of daily after-school programs at four Southwest side elementary schools and one middle school.
But he said programs outside of CPS are still facing uncertainty and there’s a question of what will happen the year after next, when COVID relief funds run out. Brosnan said 21st Century grants are important because they provide organizations a base they can count on.
He hopes this leads the state to change the way they fund after-school programming.
“We need a sustainable funding stream to fund these programs every year, because we all recognize the virtue of them, we all recognize how important they are and how critical they are,” he said.
Matthews notes grantees are not guaranteed renewal and that they are supposed to develop sustainability plans in case the grants expire.
But she said ISBE understands grantees expected the opportunity to renew the grant, given past experiences. Some community organizations have been getting 21st Century grants for decades.