March 30, 2005

State funding cuts affect after-school program

Not wise.
Each day after school about 65 kids go to the Martin Luther King Center in Rock Island. They finish homework, play games and eat a hot meal before going home at 6 p.m.

Now, the program could lose state money because of funding cuts to after-school programs and to child-abuse prevention programs.

About 100 kids ages 6 to 17 are enrolled in the MLK Center's after-school program, funded with a $152,000 Teen REACH grant. The grant is more than a quarter of the center's $560,000 budget, said Jerry Jones, MLK Center executive director. The grant also pays for 25 students in an after-school program at Audubon Elementary in Rock Island, organized by Rock Island's Park and Recreation Department.

The MLK Center also gets $48,000 from the state Department of Human Services' Healthy Families Illinois for parent education and voluntary home visits, part of an effort to prevent child abuse.

Now, the state wants to cut money from both programs in this year's state budget

Mr. Jones said he's concerned about the cuts.

"Forty-five percent of families around us make less than $20,000 a year," he said. "All of these efforts are preventative, and it's difficult to measure the benefits until you take it away."

Proposed cuts would take 11 percent of Healthy Families' $11 million state budget and 13 percent of the $19.75 million budget for Teen REACH.

"The state budget is huge, so $1 million from Healthy Families and the $2.7 million from Teen Reach aren’t going to fill any holes," Ms. Parsons said on Tuesday. "But, the cuts are going to have huge impacts on Illinois and huge impacts on Rock Island County."

Rock Island Police Chief Terry Dove said juvenile crime increases from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in both Rock Island and Moline, according to police data from school days in 2001 and 2002. "The bottom line is, we have a lot of kids in our community that need an opportunity to do something that's positive," he said

In addition to the more than 200 kids in Rock Island and Moline, other groups receiving money include Boys & Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley in Moline, which serves 150 kids; the Regional Office of Education in Monmouth, which serves 40 kids; and the health department in Keithsburg, which serves 25 kids.

Rock Island County State's Attorney Jeff Terronez called the after-school program "one of the most important aspects of the program.

"It's not enough to punish offenders. If we reach kids early enough, if we provide after-school programs and abuse prevention, if we do that well enough, we prevent crime."

The Rock Island County State's Attorney's Office has a staff member dedicated to handling the county's child abuse and neglect cases, Mr. Terronez added. Those cases make up half of the juvenile judge's docket.

"The general public needs to understand that this is a significant issue in Rock Island County," he said. "If we can save one kid from victimizing someone else down the road, or stop a child from being a victim of child abuse, the investment is worth it."
A report in the same paper reports again the story that I covered here some time ago of the East Moline Fire Department receiving a $104,400 Homeland Security grant which they are using to purchase equipment to exhause excess diesel fumes from fire stations. That amount alone would almost completely restore these programs to their previous funding levels. Which is more important?

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