Truancy grant boost possible for Vermilion County
DANVILLE – State grant money that helps area school districts keep students in school by providing the money to hire attendance outreach workers may be distributed in a new way for the next school year.
Vermilion County stands to gain about $100,000 over the next four years under the recommended changes, said Jane Quinlan, a member of the task force making the recommendations and assistant regional superintendent for Champaign and Ford counties.
The area currently gets $131,000 in grant money through the Truants' Alternative and Optional Education Program. The program provided $18 million statewide this year, with almost 27 percent going to the Chicago public school system.
The changes would result in some areas in the state receiving more funding and others seeing cuts. But overall, a total of $1.5 million would move from five downstate areas to the collar counties.
Following concerns from officials in some areas of the state – the Rockford area, in particular – that they weren't receiving a sufficient amount of funds to address their truancy issues, the state established a task force, chaired by two Rockford legislators, to look at the best way to distribute the grant money.
Until now, the money has been distributed through a competitive grant process. The task force recommended providing a base amount of $30,000 to each geographic area covered by a regional office of education, and then distributing the rest of the money according to the regions' chronic truancy and dropout rates and poverty rates.
The result in this area of the state: three regions will lose money under the new formula and three will gain, Quinlan said. The area as a whole will lose about $300,000, though.
"Even though downstate overall is losing money to the suburban area, within each area there are winners and losers," Quinlan said.
Champaign and Ford counties could lose an estimated $225,000 in grant money – nearly half of their current funding – over the next four years under the recommended changes. That could mean a reduction in attendance staff and services.
Quinlan said a region's share of the grant money will more closely mirror its percentage of children living in poverty under the new formula.
"I do think the formula is probably more equitable across the state, given that it's limited dollars," she said.
One of the issues the task force did not address was whether $18 million is enough for truancy programs statewide.
"I think it's probably not," Quinlan said, noting alternative education programs are expensive.
The task force called for the changes to be phased in over four years, with 25 percent of the grant money distributed according to the new formula in the next fiscal year. It also noted that an additional $3 million in funding from the Legislature could be used to keep the areas that would otherwise lose money at their current level of funding, thus eliminating the need for phasing in the changes over four years.
How the state board of education puts the recommended changes into effect depends on how much money is appropriated for the grant program for the next fiscal year and how much money is requested by school districts, said Sally Veach, an education consultant for the Illinois State Board of Education and a member of the task force.