Stimulus in Education

Over a year ago, Congress passed the federal financial stimulus package, and since then both Naperville school districts have put the stimulus money to good use.

For District 203, the stimulus funds were a bonus. They used $680,000 to buy educational tools for the soon-to-be-opened Ann Reid Early Childhood Center.

That means children like 4-year-old Bridget Shannon will have high-tech equipment to play with this fall, including smart boards, smart tables, audio enhancement aids, and OT/PT(?) equipment, including an indoor playground.

Bridget’s mom, Laura Shannon, said, “We’re really excited about the smart board…because Bridget doesn’t have the fine motor skills to type on a computer, she doesn’t really have the knowledgeable skills to type on a computer. The smart board will allow her to point and participate.”

The new indoor playground is a first-ever for School District 203. Because children with physical disabilities often lose muscle during the winter months, the wooden school bus, climber, and slide will keep them active year-round.

Karen Pierz, a Physical Therapist for the Early Childhood Center, said, “A lot of kids that have low muscle tone, have difficulty stabilizing one leg while the other leg is working… And we do a lot of work where I assist them up and down that equipment. It’s very difficult to duplicate that without a ladder or a set of stairs or a climber.”

Of the other new equipment at the center, Shannon said “There are new things happening all the time, so it’s nice to be updated, and at the cutting edge of what’s out there.”

Indian Prairie School District 204 also used $1.2 million in stimulus funds to buy equipment for students with special needs. But the majority of funds—$3 million of a $5 million federal stabilization grant—was used to plug a gaping hole in last year’s budget.

“We had a $6 million and a half deficit forecasted at one time for last year. That $3 million was part of the plan that brought us back to a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010,” said David Holm, Assistant Superintendent for Business for District 204.

But getting federal money wasn’t free. Stimulus money came with new rules and regulations, including the stipulation that all spending must be on American-made products.

District 204 also received federal money in place of state money, and now that stimulus funds are nearly gone, District 204 will have to wrestle with more red ink for next fiscal year, especially since the state doesn’t have any money to give them.

“The state has significant financial problems, and it really comes down to they don’t have enough revenue to run the programs,” said Holm. “As of right now, my answer to that right now is ‘no.’ I don’t think the state is going to be able to step up.

“What it will take them to do to be able to make those payments to us would be some kind of significant revenue enhancement, significant reduction somewhere else.”

Hold suggested an income tax increase, though he also said it wasn’t likely any money would come their way before the December elections.

Until then, they’ll just have to wait.

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