News Local/State

State Budget Standoff Shuts Down Lincoln’s Challenge Academy

Cadets at the Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Rantoul.

Cadets at the Lincoln's Challenge Academy in Rantoul. (Illinois National Guard)

A spokesman for the Illinois National Guard says about 90 staffers of the Lincoln's Challenge Academy for troubled youth have been asked not to report for work because of the state budget impasse.

Lt. Col. Brad Leighton says all of the staffers are contract employees and considered vendors to the state.  He says they were notified Tuesday to stay home.

"They are contract employees, which basically equates to vendors for the state, and we have no ability to pay them until a budget is passed," he said.  The program is 75 percent federally funded and 25 percent state funded, but the federal reimbursement is paid only after state funds have been used.

Leighton says the next class of more than 400 Illinois youths was expected July 15 but has been postponed. 

"If there's an agreement on the budget, we can get up and going quickly," he said.  "It's 22 weeks, so we could graduate one class and then two days, start a new class.  But if we get to a point where we have to cancel the coming class, we don't want to obligate funds that we won't get federal reimbursement for."

Leighton says only about 12 staffers remain at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, where the Guard operates Lincoln's Challenge. 

The budget standstill in Springfield also means a $33 million construction project for new facilities has been brought to a halt.

"The buildings they're in now (of the former Air Force base) have a lot of infrastructure problems," he said. 
The Lincoln's Challenge Academy, in its 21st year, is the largest single-site program of its type in the nation.