From WILL - News Headlines -

Kids Count Study Shows Childhood Poverty on the Rise in Champaign County

Amid the highs and lows of Illinois' uncertain economy, a new report says Champaign County has followed a decade-long trend of increased childhood poverty.

The "Great at Eight" report, released by Voices for Illinois Children, focused on the resources children up until the age of eight need to succeed. The report's authors say at this age "children should be ready to shift from learning to read to reading to learn."

The study finds from 1999-2000, the childhood poverty rate in Champaign County was 14.3 percent, slightly below the statewide average of 14.8 percent. In 2008-2009, the county's child poverty rate went up to 18.9 percent, compared with 17.8 percent statewide.

Meanwhile, math and reading scores for 3rd graders on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in Urbana and Champaign Schools last year were below the state average.

The authors of the report say the state fiscal crisis threatens an array of services, including early childhood education, mental health care, and family support. Beverley Baker, the director of Community Impact with the United Way of Champaign County, said she agrees that programs critical to a child's development are at risk, which is why she said state funding is making it more difficult to rely on Illinois for support.

"Each local community is going to have to look inward," she said. "There's no way we can replace what the state government does, but I think we're going to have to be creative, and we're going to have to pool our local resources to see what we can do."

The report acknowledges that there will likely be more spending cuts, as the recent income tax increase is not enough to close Illinois' budget gap.

In the last year, low-income students represented more than half of the enrollment at Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana School District 116. Unit 4 School board member Sue Gray said the school district is looking to trim up to $2 million from its $100 million budget, a task she said will not be taken lightly.

The School Board plans to hold a public meeting Tuesday, February 22 at 6pm at the Mellon Building in Champaign to seek community input on how to make those cuts.

(Graphic courtesy of Voices for Illinois Children)