Fifteen local families face end of services
By Jim Nowlan
Regional schools superintendent Angie Zarvell is crying foul over the recent rejection by the state school board of a grant application her office made for renewed funding for a successful program for zero to age 3 at-risk youngsters and their parents.
“The application process was flawed,” the veteran educator told The News this past week, “and it appears new applicants without any experience in the Prevention Initiative program were given priority over programs like ours that have worked effectively for years.”
Zarvell has been the elected superintendent for the Regional Office of Education for Henry, Bureau and Stark counties since 2011. Zarvell is not opposed this year in her bid for a third four-year term.
In the past year, Zarvell’s office provided in-home counseling and education services to 95 children and 80 families through a $400,000 grant from the state, a grant that received additional state funding twice during the past year.
So, it was a shock to Zarvell to read an email June 4 from the Illinois State Board of Education notifying her that her application for renewed funding had been totally rejected.
At the same time, Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago received a grant of $4.7 million, even though the organization had not been funded in the past. A number of other nonprofit organizations also received first-time funding this year, while several Downstate regional offices of education and school districts had their grant renewal applications rejected.
Zarvell was told that her office’s application received a high enough score to be funded, but that “the money ran out.” This, even though the state appropriated $50 million more this year than last for early childhood educational services.
“Based on the additional funding we received mid-year, which we thought was an expression of approval for the work we were doing,” said Zarvell, “we hired three additional fulltime staff in March, who have received their intensive ‘Parents As Teachers’ curriculum training.”
Program serves struggling young families
The Prevention Initiative program administered by Zarvell and other education offices provides regular in-home visits to families who have risk factors such as low income families, teen parents, single mothers, foster care and low-birthweight youngsters.
“Parent educators” are not certified educators, but they receive required special training in how to assess very young children and their parents as to their developmental needs.
According to Zarvell’s office, 15 Stark County families and 21 children received Prevention Initiative services this past year. These families and children will see their support service ended in August unless the grant rejection is overturned.
Zarvell appealing application rejection
Because Zarvell feels the state application process was flawed in several ways she is appealing the grant rejection.
She has also contacted local state legislators, including Sen. Chuck Weaver and representatives Dan Swanson and Tony McCombie, as their districts include several offices of education and school districts that, like Zarvell, also received rejections of their renewal requests.
Even though Weaver is out of the country at the moment, Zarvell said he and the other lawmakers are working to see the state board actions reversed.