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Senate OKs letting Safe Passage parents recoup travel costs

SPRINGFIELD–The Senate passed a retooled bill Friday that allows parents of Chicago students traveling along Safe Passage routes to be reimbursed for paying someone to drive their children to school.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, passed 39-13 in the Senate. It goes back to the House because of a Senate amendment.

“My goal is to provide protection for students living in safe passage route,” said Lightford, D-Maywood.

After about 50 Chicago schools closed last year, students had to be funneled to different schools. Because this led to students traveling through areas known for gang violence and high crime, Safe Passage routes were introduced to help them get to school safely.

But Lightford said she sponsored this measure after a 15-year-old Chicago girl was beaten and raped last December half a block from one of the city’s Safe Passage routes. The incident made her, and other parents, question how “safe” the passages really were.

House Bill 3662 initially required Chicago Public Schools to bus Safe Passage students for free—a move which had an estimated price tag of $60 million to pay for 900 buses and other transportation costs. Lightford’s amended measure would change that by allowing either Chicago Public Schools to bus those students or their parents to apply for reimbursement from the state.

Sen. David Luechtefeld, who was torn on the vote, said the $60 million price tag helped him decide which side of the fence to land on.

“In a state that’s already in trouble, that’s a lot of money,” said Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, who voted against the measure.

But Lightford reiterated that the $60 million estimate applied only to the initial bill, not to her amended legislation.

She said that the new cost would be “drastically lower,” but that no one had calculated that specific number out for legislators to work with.

“The bottom line is to get students to school safe,” Lightford said.