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Mayor Emanuel announces $4 million more for programs to keep kids off the streets

Mayor Rahm Emanuel September.  |  Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: November 4, 2012 6:21AM

Four thousand more Chicago children will have access to after-school and summer programs that help keep them occupied and safe, thanks to a $4 million investment tied to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2013 budget.

Emanuel has already promised to give 5,000 more toddlers access to early childhood education programs over the next three years — and upgrade the quality of existing programs — beginning with a $10 million down payment in 2013.

Now, he’s making a $4 million investment in after-school and summer programs tailor-made to keep older kids occupied, off the streets and out of trouble.

The city already spends $9 million on those programs serving 9,000 kids. The cash infusion will bring the total city investment to $13 million, enough to serve 13,000 kids.

“After school and summer programs play a critical role in allowing our students to continue to learn, grow and explore outside of the classroom,” Emanuel said in a press release announcing the expansion.

“An investment in a child’s future is the most important investment we can make. I instructed my budget director to ensure the city continues to take steps to make these opportunities available to our children.”

Details of the after school and summer programs to be funded by the city’s $4 million will be determined after a bidding process conducted by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. It’s expected to attract proposals from non-profits and community organizations.

But, the mayor’s office said “one example” of a program that could benefit is “One Summer PLUS,” a targeted jobs program aimed at young people at risk of being exposed to violence.

Last summer, the program served 700 at-risk youth at 13 high schools: Morgan Park, Julian, Hyde Park, Simeon, Dunbar, Robeson, Gage Park, Orr, Kenwood, Harlan, Farragut, Fenger and Marshall.

“Having steady employment during the summer months or a safe place to go to learn and be active and productive [after school] is one of the best ways to keep our children on the path to opportunity,” Family and Support Services Commissioner Evelyn Diaz was quoted as saying.

Gaylord Gieseke of the ACT Now Coalition, a statewide advocacy group for after school and youth development programs, agreed that “quality” after-school programs “keep students from dropping out, get them ready for college and careers and keep them safe and engaged outside of school.”

Emanuel decided last week to hold the line on taxes, fines and fees in his 2013 budget and count on rebounding revenues, continued cost-cutting and dunning deadbeats to erase a revised $298 million shortfall.

But, even as he vowed to make more “tough calls” on city spending, the mayor promised to continue to make “strategic investments” in programs he considers important, like those serving children.

Last week, the mayor held pre-arranged “conversations” with select groups of families and small business owners across the city to hear their ideas on how to balance the city’s budget. The importance of after-school and summer programs was a key focus of those meetings.

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