News Local/State

Champaign, Urbana Preschool Programs Get Funding Boost


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Both the Urbana and Champaign school districts will receive additional state funding over the next five years to support their preschool programs.

The increase comes after both districts submitted proposals to the Illinois State Board of Education as part of a competitive grant process. Urbana School District 116 will receive an extra $311,000 annually to expand its preschool program, while Champaign Unit 4 Schools are due to receive nearly $600,000 more per year in state grants for its programs.

Amy Hayden, principal of Champaign’s Early Childhood Center, said the extra funding means the district will be able to serve an additional 30 to 40 children. That will make a dent in a waiting list for the program that stood at 175 children at the end of the last school year, she said. Over the last five years, Unit 4 has received about $1 million from the state in grant funding for its preschool program. Following the most recent application process, Unit 4 is due to get nearly $1.6 million annually in state preschool grants over the next half decade.

“It’s huge getting this increase,” Hayden said. “The last time we applied (for this funding) was about six years ago. Over time, the district has had to pick up more and more of the expense of the program and has increased the number of children we serve even though our funding has not increased.”

She said the number of preschool classrooms in the district will jump to 13 this year - up from 10 five years ago. The district will also create a new dual English and French language program - beginning with a preschool class - to accommodate a growing population of Congolese families in the community, Hayden said.

In Urbana, Superintendent Don Owen said the grant dollars will be used to pay for two additional full-day preschool classrooms at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. He said those classrooms will serve an additional 34 four-year-olds in the district.

Both preschool programs are targeted at students with high needs. Officials with both districts say they conduct screenings throughout the year to identify eligible children.

The Champaign and Urbana districts are winners in the competitive grant process. But not all districts have come out with extra funding, or even the funding they had last year. Dozens of districts across the state were told their funding would be cut, according to a recent report from WBEZ. More than 50 districts are appealing those decisions.

Hayden said Unit 4 asked for $3 million in their grant proposal, but only received about half that.

She said she was “honestly a little disappointed we didn’t receive more of what we asked for, but now I’m grateful for the increase that we’re getting.”

Owen said it concerns him that other communities that need funding aren’t going to receive it.

“That becomes an equity issue at the state level that does need to be addressed in some way,” he said.