For Immediate Release
September 19, 2013
State officials visit McLean County Regional Alternative School
State Board to request restored Regional Safe School and truancy program funding to FY13 level
BLOOMINGTON – State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch and State Board Chairman Gery J. Chico visited Bloomington’s Regional Alternative School, known as RAS, Thursday following the Board’s monthly meeting in Normal. The RAS helps students stay on track and complete high school. It is one of 77 such schools throughout the state served by state grants that have seen a 66 percent reduction in funding since fiscal year 2009.
“These types of programs are critical tools in the effort to keep students in school and prevent dropouts,” said Chairman Chico. “They often provide the bridge to a high school diploma and a brighter future. For many students, including some with disabilities, a change in environment, a new instructional approach and other support services proves to be a turning point, helping a student stay the course. This is an investment that pays dividends down the road for students as well as the state’s economy.”
The Regional Safe School funding line item helps provide alternative education for youth in grades six through 12 who are suspension- or expulsion-eligible due to severe misconduct and who are administratively transferred to a Regional Safe School Program at the discretion of the local school district in lieu of suspension or expulsion. This program includes academics, age/grade-appropriate work-based learning opportunities, counseling and community service.
The State Board of Education plans to ask the General Assembly later this month for $239,300 in supplemental funding to restore the Alternative Learning/Regional Safe Schools line item funding to the fiscal year 2013 levels. Regional Safe Schools funding has decreased from about $18.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $6.3 million in fiscal year 2014, resulting in nearly a thousand fewer students served at such schools and fewer staff members to support student achievement. Additionally, the Board plans to request $500,000 in supplemental funding for TAOEP, the Truants’ Alternative and Optional Education Program, to also restore the budget line to the FY13 level.
The TAOEP funding line has decreased 43 percent from about $20 million in FY 2009 to $11.5 million in FY 2014, resulting in a 77 percent drop in the number of students served across the state. Truancy prevention and intervention programs integrate resources of the school and community to meet the needs of the students, including those who are age 21, and their families. Optional education programs serve as part-time or full-time alternatives to regular school attendance and offer modified instructional programs or other services designed to prevent students from dropping out of school.
Mark Jontry, regional superintendent of the DeWitt, Livingston and McLean County Regional Office of Education, said cuts to a variety of grants, including General State Aid and transportation, have also hurt the office’s ability to serve and intervene earlier in a student’s life. The state’s K-12 education budget has been reduced since fiscal year 2009 by more than $700 million dollars, including $165 million in General State Aid. Regional Safe Schools are non-taxing entities, receiving no local property tax revenue.
“As fewer students are being given the opportunity to place themselves in an environment which is better suited to meet their needs, these students are then more apt to run into problems and be suspended or expelled,” Jontry said. “They end up coming to us anyway but due to a negative situation rather than by choice.”
The Bloomington-based RAS serves nearly 200 Safe School students from DeWitt, Livingston and McLean counties. The Regional Office of Education also oversees services to an additional 550 students in all three counties who are struggling with truancy, homelessness, learning challenges and the need to recover credits, or catch up, in order to graduate.
Many of the schools’ graduates say the schools’ smaller class sizes as well as academic and personal support helped them re-engage in learning and school.
“It gives kids who are going through a rough time a chance. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get my diploma without it,” said Sarah Murray of Bloomington, who graduated from Normal West High School in May after spending two years at the alternative school. “RAS gave me the ability to graduate high school with pride and also prepared me to be successful in the real world.”
Ms. Murray is now attending Heartland Community College and plans to get her bachelor’s degree with a major in criminal justice.
The supplemental funding of for both the Regional Safe Schools and the TAOEP would support more struggling students and their families to prevent students from dropping out of school, and allow more suspension and expulsion-eligible students to be placed in alternative learning settings to continue their education. All 48 Regional Offices of Education, including the three Intermediate Service Centers in Cook County and Chicago Public Schools receive RSSP grant funds. Seventy-two TAOEP grantees, including community colleges, school districts and Regional Offices of Education, provide integrated truancy services.
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