Thousands of Illinois Youth Facing Possible Disruption of After-School Programs

SPRINGFIELD – Supporters of community-based after-school programs warn that up to 40,000 young people across the state may face losing access to academic assistance, recreational activities, and other extracurricular opportunities this summer unless Illinois legislators authorize additional funds to sustain them.

“The clock is ticking for lawmakers to take action in safeguarding after-school (programs),” remarked Susan Stanton, the executive director of Afterschool for Children and Teens, also known as ACT Now, during a rally at the Statehouse on Tuesday. “We are truly running out of time before these programs are forced to close. Staff will be let go, and families will be left in distress.”

ACT Now represents a coalition of organizations including local YMCA chapters, Boys & Girls Club, and other community-based groups that offer educational enrichment activities and support services outside of regular school hours for children and teenagers, especially those enrolled in high-minority, underperforming schools.

The endangered programs currently rely on federal funding provided through the U.S. Department of Education’s Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

This financial support is channeled via the Illinois State Board of Education, which disperses competitive grants to local programs. Typically granted over three or five years, these awards can be renewed upon completion or reapplied for through a fresh competitive grant process.

However, due to a miscalculation by ISBE in 2023 regarding available funds, more grants were pledged than the state could sustain. This shortfall impedes programs from having their grants renewed upon expiry, prompting advocates to seek $50 million in state funding to bridge the gap.

According to Stanton, approximately 6,000 students were already affected by program closures at the end of the previous fiscal year, and without the injection of state support, an additional 40,000 students will be deprived of services post June 30 this year.

State Senator Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, proposed a bill that would secure $50 million annually in state funds for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

“Merely voicing support for high-quality, secure, and thriving learning spaces for our young people isn’t enough. We must also allocate the necessary funds for this objective,” remarked Villivalam. “I firmly believe that investing in childhood education is an investment in the future well-being of our communities, a responsibility we must not underestimate.”

Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget outline includes around $234 million for after-school initiatives, predominantly funded by federal allocations. Yet, Stanton highlighted the distinction in this program, which directs funds to school districts as opposed to the community-based organizations benefiting from 21st Century Community Learning Center grants.

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