State budget crunch could squeeze school program

By Carly O'Keefe
NASHVILLE, IL (KFVS) - The Illinois' governor calls the state's budget crunch "the greatest economic crisis in modern times," but teachers in one state-funded program say budget cuts could put some students' futures in jeopardy.
The Illinois Board of Education cut funding to the Jobs for Illinois Graduates Program (JILG) for the 2009-2010 school year.  The program is designed to help disadvantaged students who would be considered "at risk" of not completing their high school education.
Factors for taking part in the program include: learning disabilities, parents not completing high school, teen pregnancy, a history of drugs or alcohol abuse, or even a criminal record. JILG gives those high school seniors an extra boost of confidence and know how to transition from high school into the real world.
"When students come into my classroom, I see the potential in them, and try to unlock that between August and May," said Michele Goosetree, a JILG teacher at Nashville High School. "So when they get out on their own, they realize, ‘Hey I can do this, I can be a teacher, or a doctor, or a mechanic if I want to.'"
Graduation is still months away, but already most of Goosetree's JILG students have a plan for their future.
"I am going to Kaskaskia College for a year and once I graduate from there, go on to Carbondale or Eastern and I'm going to be an English teacher and have my minor in theater," said JILG student Cara Polczynski.
For other students, JILG changed what they always assumed they'd do into what they dream they can become.
"I was actually thinking I'd join the Army," said JILG student Brandon Weihe. "Because my grandpa did it, my dad did it, but then I came to JILG... and I'm going to go on to Kaskaskia College for graphic design and then probably go to SIU."
When JILG students learned funding wasn't in the state budget to continue the program next year, they wrote letters to local legislators to try and change it.
"One of my students actually sent a letter to every legislator in the state to take some action on JILG's behalf," said Goosetree.
Without funding, the program that's taught Goosetree's students to hope beyond expectation will fall by the wayside.
"If you don't know where you're going, this class puts you on the right track," said JILG student Morgan Reid. "It really gives you a kick start, and it's such an awesome class. If the juniors--incoming seniors don't have it, I really do feel bad for them."
Since the Illinois Board of Education cut the program--it'll be up to the Illinois legislature to put it back in place and find the money to fund it.