CHAMPAIGN — As many as 150 high school students will have jobs this summer thanks to a joint program between the city of Champaign and Unit 4 school district.
The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved using $200,000 from the city's urban renewal fund to support the program, for which 150 students ages 14 to 18 will be placed in jobs around the city and earn $8.25 per hour for seven weeks. They will learn job skills and what it takes to be employed, organizers say.
The program is targeted at teenagers from low income families — to qualify for employment, the student must be eligible for free or reduced school lunches.
Among the city council and Tuesday night's speakers from the audience, no one said the jobs program should be halted, but the source of funding has been debated.
The city's urban renewal fund is an account set aside to promote redevelopment in blighted areas. It has paid for infrastructure improvements in the Beardsley Park neighborhood, and city officials plan to use it as a source of money for an upcoming Bristol Park redevelopment plan.
Some speakers on Tuesday worried that using $200,000 from the fund for the jobs program would diminish the money available for other projects that would benefit the city's poorest residents.
Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said she does not have a problem with using the urban renewal fund for the summer jobs program.
"It's coming from a fund that is waiting to fund a Bristol Park redevelopment plan that we all very much want to see happen but that isn't completed and isn't ready to be implemented," Feinen said.
Instead, the city has discovered a creative way to use the money now to help low income families, she said.
"Urban renewal isn't just about bricks and mortar," Feinen said. "And we've found a way to support a program that will hopefully make a big impact."