CHICAGO (CBS) — The city’s Safe Passage program to protect Chicago Public Schools students on their way to and from school has been expanded more than two dozen new schools, thanks to $10 million in new funding from the state.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports an enthusiastic crowd of Safe Passage workers packed the Plumbers Union Hall in West Town on Thursday for a back-to-school rally, and to hear about a significant increase in funding for the program.
Safe Passage has been around since 2009, but under the Emanuel administration, the program was expanded after CPS shut down dozens of schools. Critics said the school closures forced students to cross gang lines to get to their new schools, and the city expanded the Safe Passage program last summer to cover every so-called “welcoming school.”
Last school year, the program covered 92 routes. The city spent $7.7 million last summer to hire 600 workers for the dozens of new routes added to the program due to school closings.
On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn announced the state was providing $10 million to hire 700 additional Safe Passage workers and expand the program 27 new schools, and a total of 133 routes.
Emanuel told the workers they’re not just guarding kids on the street, but helping them get into college, a sentiment echoed by Safe Passage worker Edward Cephus.
“A lot of our children, especially in my community, will not go to school if they don’t feel safe. So the fact that we’re out there and allowing them to get to school safely, it directly affects their life, and where they’re going in life,” Cephus said.
The workers said their presence is one reason why not one Chicago Public Schools student was seriously injured while walking one of the Safe Passage routes last year.
“It’s always a good idea to have more eyes. I feel that, with all the new Safe Passage workers, we could get a lot done,” said Safe Passage worker Steven Bell.
Renee McDonald said she grew up in a neighborhood where one of the Safe Passage routes is located, “and I know what goes on.”
“It makes me feel good every day when the kids come. They’re happy to walk past me and say, ‘Hey Miss Renee, how you doing?’” she added.
In addition to the $10 million in new funding from the state, the city was spending an extra $1 million on Safe Passage for the upcoming school year, for a total budget of $28 million.