Parents rally for bilingual funding

Ryan plan spurs District 54 cuts

Dozens of parents and educators in Schaumburg District 54 demonstrated Wednesday against a proposal that would cut funding for bilingual education programs by about a third.

Grappling with a state budget crisis, Gov. George Ryan has proposed taking money from 20 school grant programs and redistributing it directly to all the districts through an increase in the amount they receive per pupil. A Ryan spokesman said redirecting the money to school districts would give school boards more flexibility to meet their individual needs.

But districts with programs that rely heavily on the grants might not be able to make up the grant money in greater per-pupil revenue.

District 54 officials say the net effect of the change will be less money for the district overall, requiring them to scale back bilingual education and other programs that were funded by the grants.

The district is not alone in its concern; other local groups are busy writing letters and encouraging parents to lobby against the change.

The North Cook Young Adult Academy in Des Plaines is one of 111 alternative education programs in the state funded by the 20 grant programs that are part of the governor’s proposal. The academy gives students who have been expelled from school a chance to earn credits and graduate from high school. It also aims to teach them to modify their behavior.

A state grant accounts for nearly 60 percent of the academy’s budget, said program director Lori Deichstetter. Without the grant, Deichstetter said she is not sure how the school can continue serving 225 students and probably will have to close some of its sites.

“This is a place where kids are getting turned around,” Myra Carvell, a parent, said. Carvell said that since he joined the program, her son has gone from being expelled to being a straight-A student headed for college. “What will it cost society in the long run if these kids don’t succeed?” she said.

Advocates of bilingual education have the same question.

Though the state’s budget is still being debated in Springfield, District 54 officials laid off 65 bilingual teacher assistants in case the changes are enacted.

The District 54 could lose $500,000 for bilingual education alone, about a third of the program’s budget, said Diep Nguyen, director of the district’s bilingual education program. School officials hope they can rehire the teacher assistants next year, but are not sure if the budget crisis will dash those hopes.

Since his original proposal was made, the governor has removed early childhood and agricultural education programs from the list of affected grant programs, a spokesman said.

District 54 officials said they also had to lay off another 70 employees because of potential changes to other grant programs, such as reading improvement.

At the rally Wednesday, representatives of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund encouraged parents to write legislators to voice their concerns.

District 54 Supt. Lynne Rauch echoed their call, citing concerns about the district’s ability to make up the money it will lose from the grant programs.

“We’re not going to retrieve those dollars if it goes that way,” Rauch said.

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