For Immediate Release
Thursday, March 24, 2022

ISBE announces $17 million grant to create the nation’s first state-funded Freedom Schools network

​Freedom Schools provide a research-based, multicultural curriculum during the summer and/or school year to improve outcomes for low-income students

​SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois State Board of Education today announced a $17 million grant to create the nation's first state-funded Freedom Schools network. The Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant, created by Public Act 101-654 and funded with federal Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency dollars, will supplement the learning taking place in school through a research-based, multicultural curriculum during the summer and/or school year. The program aims to improve outcomes for low-income students and address the opportunity gap and learning loss caused by the pandemic.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on low-income students. Last year, low-income students experienced rates of chronic absenteeism 50 percent higher than the state average. The number of students meeting or exceeding standards in math or English language arts also fell by twice as much as the state average. Freedom Schools will offer students culturally relevant learning opportunities with academic and social supports, including quality teaching, challenging and engaging curricula, wrap-around supports, a positive school climate, and strong ties to family and community.

“Freedom Schools have a profound impact on the communities they serve, and this funding will expand their reach, bringing the benefits of a research-backed education grounded in the civil rights movement to more Illinois learners this summer and next school year," said Governor JB Pritzker. “This is just one aspect of our multi-faceted approach to renewing our students' learning experience and getting them back on track after the pandemic's disruptions. I'm also proud that we're doing so with a keen eye for our low-income communities, which have been hit the hardest by the learning loss of these past two years."

“As an educator, I'm thrilled that students will have the opportunity to extend and deepen their learning," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “As a Latina, I am intimately aware of the intrinsic value of an educational environment that honors and respects your ethnic heritage. I'm excited that these special programs will reach the children who have been hardest hit by the pandemic and provide a safe and empowering learning experience for them."

“Freedom Schools have a proud history and a profound significance for African Americans," said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford, one of the sponsors of the groundbreaking legislation that created the Freedom Schools initiative. “These schools represent a long tradition of engaged citizenship, personal empowerment, and academic excellence. I know this experience will have a positive impact on students, their families, and the whole community."

Illinois' Freedom Schools network will be the first in the nation to receive state funding. Freedom Schools began in the 1960s to provide quality education for all students, to motivate civic engagement, and to empower disenfranchised communities. The renowned curriculum of Freedom Schools allows students of all ages to experience a new and liberating form of education that directly relates to the imperatives of their lives and communities. Freedom Schools around the country continue to demonstrate the intergenerational effects and proven benefits of civic engagement by providing students with instruction that fosters confidence, critical thinking, and social-emotional development.​

The Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools initiative also empowers educators and strengthens the teacher pipeline. The teachers in Freedom Schools must be from the local community.

The initiative is named after esteemed African American leader, educator, and public servant Phillip Jackson. Jackson founded and led the Black Star Project, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The organization closes achievement gaps and supports economic empowerment for African American and Hispanic youth and families through community-based support programs like tutoring, mentoring, parent advocacy and development, and college preparation. 

The Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant application is open to public schools, public universities, community colleges, and not-for-profit, community-based organizations. Priority will be given to joint applications between a community-based or not-for-profit organization and another eligible entity.

Interested applicants can find the application on the ISBE website and can contact Adenike Sosina at (217) 782-5270 or with any questions. Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. April 29.