News Local/State

Budget Stalemate Hurting Recruitment At Lincoln’s Challenge

A sign at Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Rantoul

Courses continue at Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Rantoul, but the budget stalemate has stopped construction on a series of new buildings since summer. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

A military-style program for at-risk youth in Rantoul went on as planned this year, despite Illinois’ budget impasse.  But the lack of a budget also left some to believe Lincoln’s Challenge Academy is not in operation, hurting further recruitment.

National Guard spokesperson Brad Leighton says the present class of 175 cadets started about a week later than normal. 

He says state officials determined staff positions could continue since they’re legally considered contractors – like other state workers, and not vendors.  But Leighton says as of a couple weeks ago, there were only about 40 recruits lined up for the next class, starting in January. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there that Lincoln’s Challenge is no longer around, and that’s just not the case," he said.  "Lincoln’s Challenge is there, it’s doing good work, and it’s continuing to do good work.  We’re looking forward to plowing through. We’re seeking new cadets and new people to enter the program.”

The budget stalemate is keeping contractors from finishing five new buildings at Lincoln’s Challenge that would allow cadets to move out of aging facilities that were part of the former Chanute Air Force Base.

The $33-million project includes classroom space, a library, and athletic facility. Much of it was paid for through former governor Pat Quinn’s 2009 "Illinois Jobs Now" capital construction initiative.

"It's a basically the whole complex that we're building," Leighton said. "Construction has been halted because of the budget, but (this is) not going to go on forever, it will go forward. It's just a temporary delay in construction."

The operating budget for Lincoln’s Challenge relies on 75 percent federal money, and 25 percent state funds.  

The current class graduates on December 18.