Dropout programs hit with funding cuts

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Students protest

Jason Reblando

Students protest

Hundreds of high school dropouts are expected to be turned away from alternative schools in the coming months, since the state cut a grant to dropout programs funded through City Colleges.

Eleven alternative schools lost about 30 percent of their expected budgets for this year—a total of nearly $2 million—when the Illinois State Board of Education turned down City Colleges’ grant proposal for the first time in 18 years.

Expecting business as usual, the schools had already enrolled students to fill approximately 400 slots in City Colleges’ Truancy Optional Alternative Educational Program. Those students will remain enrolled, but new students who typically apply throughout the year will have to be turned down.

Other cuts have already been made.

Tom O’Hale, principal of Truman Middle College at Truman College in Uptown, laid off a social worker and five support staff. Field trips, video editing classes and other ‘extras’ designed to heighten students’ interest in school will be eliminated, he adds.

“The kids are going to come in, go to school and go home,” O’Hale says.

He was one of about 250 teachers and students who marched at the Thompson Center on Sept. 9, demanding that ISBE restore the grant.

Jack Wuest, executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, says the state put the schools in a bind because City Colleges was not notified until mid-August—six weeks into the fiscal year—that its application had been rejected.

But Naomi Green, a spokeswoman for ISBE, says the state’s budget problems caused the delayed decision. City Colleges lost out because of increased competition for a shrinking pot of money, Green explains, adding that City Colleges also turned in a flawed application—something Wuest denies.

CPS balked at adding students

Ten of the 11 schools affected by the cuts are administered through Chicago Public Schools’ Youth Connections charter. Sheila Venson, executive director of Youth Connections, says the impact of the cuts could have been lessened if CPS had accepted her proposal to incorporate the City Colleges students into Youth Connections’ regular high school program, making them eligible for general state aid.

“Those kids are entitled to a public education until the age of 21. I don’t think we should have to barter for that,” says Venson, who adds she even offered to have Youth Connections cover part of the extra cost.

But CPS balked at the idea

Lawrence Rainey, director of CPS’ new department of dropout prevention and recovery, says the district is considering multiple proposals for educating former dropouts, including less expensive options such as computer-based training.

“We wanted to talk seriously about [Youth Connection’s] proposal, but at the time we wanted to simply get the department off the ground,” Rainey says.

To contact John Myers, call (312) 673-3874 or e-mail myers@catalyst-chicago.org.