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Lawmakers question $1M grant

April 2, 2008 4:01:47 PM PDT
Lawmakers in Springfield held a hearing Wednesday to question the governor's $1 million grant to Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was destroyed by a huge fire. The money instead went to a private school not affiliated with the church. The Loop Lab School received the money and lawmakers are wondering if or when the school will reopen.

The Blagojevich administration says it still has not decided whether to ask the school to give the money back.

How did a private school that never asked for money wind up with a $1 million state grant? And why don't they have to give it back? Those were the central questions Wednesday at a hearing in Springfield where the governor's team is being accused of handing out tax dollars without doing their homework.

If it was answers they were after, some lawmakers walked away disappointed. Who in the Governor's office misdirected $1 million that was supposed to help Pilgrim Baptist Church? Did the governor's team fast-track the clearing of the school's executive director's criminal record so she'd be eligible for the grant? And how is the money helping kids today? Those were questions Deputy Governor Louanner Peters told lawmakers she couldn't answer because of a pending internal investigation.

"People make mistakes, but when you don't answer the questions and don't own up, it makes me wonder what you are hiding," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

"The agency didn't want to show up because they couldn't give you any definitive answers, so they sent her, I guess, to be a shield. She did her best," said State Rep. Monique Davis, (D) South Side.

State Representative Monique Davis is among those wondering why the Loop Lab School isn't being forced to give the money back.

"If I pay Sears and I owed Wal-Mart, I think Sears would say we want our money, and Wal-Mart should be giving back," said Davis.

The Loop Lab School's voicemail says it still hopes to open in newly purchased space in a downtown high-rise sometime this year. A spokesperson for the governor says the administration is being transparent and has turned over a stack of documents to lawmakers.

"A group of students lost their school in that fire, so if the funds can really be used to put a school back in place and make sure students have a place to learn, that's a good goal. We need to find out if that's happening," said Abby Ottenhoff, governor's spokesperson.

There is no word on when the Blagojevich administration's internal investigation into the misplaced millions will wrap-up.

The Loop Lab School's director isn't returning phone calls.

As for Pilgrim Baptist Church, two years and three months after the governor promised help, they still haven't seen a dime from the state.


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