CHICAGO — A school safety program beefed up after dozens of Chicago schools were closed last year will get a $10 million infusion from the state of Illinois for further expansion, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday.
Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest district, started the Safe Passage program in 2009 after concerns rose about the safety of students traveling to and from schools in city neighborhoods. It was expanded last year after the district closed dozens of schools and parents and community groups feared for children's safety, including concerns about students having to cross gang lines to attend school.
The program puts trained employees on school routes. The workers can alert police if there's a threat.
"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," Quinn said in a statement.
The money, from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, comes from proceeds through a state program issuing bonds for capital projects backed with state sales tax revenue.
The idea is to increase Safe Passage routes to the 93 schools already in the program and add 27 new schools, officials said. The additional money is expected to give 600 people jobs.
CPS officials have cited statistics showing that the program led to a 20 percent drop in overall criminal incidents around schools in the Safe Passage program. However, there have still been violent incidents near routes, including the December sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was heading to school.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the program's workers play a "critical role" for children.
"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," he said in a statement.