Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday announced the state is earmarking $10 million for Chicago Public Schools' "Safe Passage" program that aims to make kids' school routes more secure.
The money will go toward adding new routes for 93 schools signed up for Safe Passage as well 27 new schools joining the program this year. Started in 2009, the initiative dispatches trained safety monitors to high-crime areas in the city's South and West sides to help children commute to and from class. With an extra $10 million in hand, CPS is expected to bring 600 new staffers into the program.
"Our first priority as a state must be the education and well-being of our children," Quinn said in a statement. "As we kick off a new school year, all students should be focused on their studies - not on their safety - as they walk to and from school. The Safe Passage program has proven to be a successful way to improve attendance, increase safety and boost learning in our classrooms. With this state investment, we can reach even more schools and help ensure safe passage for more students."
Chiming in with his own message, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: "Safe Passage is about more than just building a route to school; it is about building a route to college, career and beyond, so that once our kids get to school, they get the world-class education they deserve."
Emanuel garnered heavy criticism for shuttering close to 50 elementary schools last summer because of low enrollment. Parents and community activists worried that students being transferred to new schools would be further endangered on unfamiliar commutes and exposed to gang-and-gun violence.
"There is no safety plan. There is no transportation plan," Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis said at the time. "The city has already raised CTA fares and now they expect parents to put their five-year-old on a crowded city bus in order for them to get to school, when they used to be able to walk to a school in their neighborhood. The way this is being done is an insult and it is disrespectful."
Responding to concerns, CPS beefed up Safe Passage and touts a 20 percent drop in criminal activity surrounding schools as well as a 7 percent spike in school attendance.
Quinn, meanwhile, is embroiled in an increasingly brutal showdown with Republican rival Bruce Rauner, who's launched a successful grassroots campaign to unseat the incumbent Democrat and win the governorship for the GOP.
These past few days have been especially rough for the governor as he grapples with a barrage of negative headlines on allegations of patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation.