State's denial of grants could hurt suburban students; U-46 leads appeals

  • Elgin Area School District U-46 has several programs to combat the problem of children entering kindergarten unprepared, including home visiting services for families. U-46 was denied a more than $1 million grant request for this school year, which officials are appealing.

      Elgin Area School District U-46 has several programs to combat the problem of children entering kindergarten unprepared, including home visiting services for families. U-46 was denied a more than $1 million grant request for this school year, which officials are appealing. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 

Elgin Area School District U-46 tops a list of suburban school districts appealing the state's denial of funding for preschool programs serving hundreds of children this school year.

And state education officials are scrambling to find money elsewhere to fulfill their requests.

The Illinois State Board of Education allocated roughly $87 million for two Early Childhood Block Grants -- Preschool For All Expansion and Prevention Initiative.

But this year state officials changed the way grants would be distributed by requiring public schools statewide to compete for funding with private programs, including day care centers, nurseries and private preschools. That process provided funding for 5,000 additional children. Yet, the influx of applicants meant the money could not fully meet the need statewide, said Jackie Matthews, ISBE spokeswoman.

Suburban districts denied or receiving reduced funding include U-46, Addison District 4, Antioch Elementary District 34, Bensenville Elementary District 2, Glen Ellyn District 41, Keeneyville District 20, West Chicago District 33 and Wood Dale District 7.

U-46 requested more than $1 million through the Prevention Initiative grant that would have supported expansion of its home-visiting services for low-income and at-risk families with children from birth to 3 years old. It has provided those services since the 1980s to help families prepare children for kindergarten through parent education around child development, and encouraging parents to be involved with their children at a young age.

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The state's second-largest school district, serving just under 40,000 students, U-46 employed four full-time parent educators to serve 40 families through home visits in the 2017-18 school year -- funded through a $339,000 state grant.

Additional funding requested for this school year would have allowed the district to hire 10 parent educators to serve 150 families, said Peggy Ondera, U-46 director of early learners initiatives.

The district appealed June 18. It takes roughly 60 days for a review. If money isn't available, U-46 might use other funds to expand the program.

"We are really waiting to find out what happens with the appeal before we make any determination on what our next steps will be," Ondera said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

West Chicago District 33 will receive roughly $410,000 less funding across three early childhood grants, which brought in more than $2.4 million in 2017-18. It converted its half-day preschool program into a full-day program at the urging of state officials.

"We feel that we have a strong case," Superintendent Charles Johns said. "Our program was specifically designed to meet the ISBE specifications. It is extremely perplexing to see that we had a 16 percent reduction in funding despite being directed to ramp up to a more costly program."

Even if funding doesn't come through, the district will provide early childhood programming as planned this year, he added.

"Our families, students and staff are all relying on those plans," Johns said. "We are hoping that our appeal will be successful. There have been signs of hope coming from downstate and, in the past, the state had remaining funds at the end of the year that we anticipate being able to access."

Wood Dale District 7 applied for $750,000 with the goal of expanding preschool services to offer a full-day of programming for some students. The district was awarded $418,000 -- consistent with previous years' funding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We will not be cutting any programs, but we will not be expanding any either," Superintendent John Corbett said.

Antioch District 34 was denied a $93,310 Prevention Initiative grant, which officials planned to use for existing services, hiring an extra parent educator and providing access to mental health providers in schools. Without the funding, it will have to pay for parent educators' salaries itself, Superintendent Jay Marino said.

State officials are trying to secure roughly $20 million for grant requests that weren't approved but met the eligibility criteria, working in collaboration with the Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development and the Department of Human Services. Eligible applicants will be notified as soon as an agreement and funding amounts are finalized, Matthews said.

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