About 15,000 immigrant and refugee children, families and adults in Chicago went without education and citizenship support services from Centro Romero the past two years – yet another example of the long-term economic consequences of Illinois’ two-year state budget stalemate.
Centro Romero, which offers GED and other adult education classes, family services, youth programs and legal services in Edgewater, was forced to scale back programs and outreach efforts in the wake of Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis.
Before the budget impasse began, Centro Romero served nearly 15,000 immigrants and refugees yearly in the Edgewater, Rogers Park and Uptown neighborhoods of Chicago. In 2016, the center only was able to serve 6,000 people, and in 2015 it served about 9,000 people.
The biggest way the budget impasse has affected Centro Romero is that it drastically reduced its outreach efforts, said Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, whose district includes the center.
“Centro Romero provides vital support to the communities in our district,” Steans said. “Not only do they teach English and GED classes, but they also help individuals on their path to citizenship – all of which leads to increased job opportunities for those individuals and the neighborhood.
“Because of organizations like Centro Romero, I fought for immigrant funding in the stopgap budget.”
About 50 percent of Centro Romero’s funding for adult education comes from the State of Illinois; the rest comes from the federal government. When fewer state dollars were coming in, Centro Romero did receive funds from the federal government. To make up for the gap in funding, Centro Romero was forced to reduce adult education, including GED classes, and to lay off 18 teachers and staff in 2015.
Each year the adult education program serves about 1,000 students. According to an ABC 7 Chicago report, Centro Romero ended its child care services during adult education classes because of a loss of state funding, making it difficult for some students to continue pursuing their education.
“If Centro Romero were to fully end the program, not only will the students suffer, but it will have a ripple effect on the economy in Illinois,” said Dena Giacometti, Centro Romero adult education director.
Centro Romero was able to keep these programs afloat with the support of more than 400 volunteers. Fortunately, because of federal funding, the center was able to rehire about half of the staff and teachers it laid off.
As the budget stalemate continues into its 21st month, some programs at Centro Romero recently were restored. Its New Americans Initiative Project is operational, as is its Immigrant Family Resource Program. These programs are funded solely by the state, and they assist people with the citizenship application process, including preparation for the citizenship test and legal services. Centro Romero conducts a significant amount of outreach for these programs, talking to community members about the benefits of becoming a citizen.
Centro Romero’s excellent performance has been noted and rewarded by the state government in the form of performance-based grants. The social service agency currently is funded through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, with federal and stopgap budget support, but the future remains uncertain.