A major focus of the Ahlquist Center for Policy, Practice and Innovation is to ensure adequate, sustained funding for community school programs—a proven model that improves learning outcomes for students in under-resourced school districts. The community schools approach brings together public schools, non-profit organizations and local businesses, community schools to provide a broad range of programs and services to students and their families to comprehensively address student development. This brings community schools to the center of their communities and creates an environment where students and their families can thrive.

The Community Schools grant program was established in 2009 by law, but has never been funded. On April 9, John Gruber, Youth Policy Advocate at the Ahlquist Center, testified before the Committee on Secondary Education to ask that the committee support a $15 million community school line item in the FY19 budget. Funding the community schools line item will allow school districts in Illinois to fully implement community schools, and create the sustainable and impactful investments in students that produce stable, safe, healthy, educated, employable, and connected citizens.

“Without state investment, community schools and their partners face challenges in forming sustained collaborations. By making state-level investments in community schools, Illinois has an opportunity to provide communities with the funding they need to establish new partnerships that change academic, health, and youth development outcomes for children and youth.  Community schools can play a key role in the state achieving a comprehensive vision of success for all young people in Illinois.”

In Illinois, there are approximately 225 schools who identify as community schools – the most of any state in the country ­– with many more schools interested in implementing the community schools model. By supporting a $15 million community school funding line in the FY19 budget, the Illinois General Assembly can provide the support needed to sustain this effort and expand the network of community schools to help even more children and families.