Illinois students rally against higher education spending cuts

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Demonstrations at the Illinois state capitol on Wednesday saw hundreds of students, faculty and community members from eight of the state’s public universities urging the governor and legislature to end an eight-month budget battle to restore FY2016…

Demonstrators at the Illinois state capital on Feb. 17. (Photo: Colby Bermel)
Demonstrators at the Illinois state capitol on Feb. 17. (Photo: Colby Bermel)

Demonstrations at the Illinois state capitol on Wednesday saw hundreds of students, faculty and community members from eight of the state’s public universities urging the governor and legislature to end an eight-month budget battle to restore FY2016 funding for higher education programs and grants.

But the standoff is not over funding the next academic year — it’s for money that was supposed to be available last July for the current school year.

“For far too long, we have depended on lawmakers to have our best interests at heart,” senior Charles Preston, leader of a group from Chicago State University, told a large crowd at the base of the capitol’s Abraham Lincoln statue. “We’re not here to play with (lawmakers) like they play us. They’ve been playing political chess with us.”

Chicago State University senior Charles Preston speaks to the crowd. (Photo: Colby Bermel)
Chicago State University senior Charles Preston speaks to the crowd. (Photo: Colby Bermel)

The two sides have been deadlocked since last summer over funding-spending details, and while much of the FY2016 appropriations have been released due to court-ordered mandates, higher education funding is still unresolved. Critics say the Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, is holding college funds hostage until his conservative “Turnaround Agenda” is passed in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

Democratic lawmakers are trying to separate the higher education funding issue from the overall budget battle. Two weeks ago, the General Assembly passed a standalone bill restoring Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants that enable students to attend public Illinois universities. A Rauner spokesperson has said the governor will veto it, however.

As a result, schools have been under the gun financially. Eastern Illinois University laid off 198 staff members last week, and the Chicago Tribune has reported that Chicago State University will run out of money on March 1. It’s unclear at this point if the school will close.

In his budget address on Wednesday, Rauner said he has the state’s best interests in mind, saying that “we must make the education of our children our top priority.” However, the governor was referring to early and K-12 education in this instance.

It was an “olive branch (only),” said Joe Haynes, a sophomore at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. “Whatever issues you have with the budget, you all figure that stuff out, but don’t put our futures at stake because of politics.”

“I’m not sure what happens on March 1. We might close, we might not; it’s uncertain,” Preston says. “My mother works at this school, and I’m a senior trying to graduate. I can’t fathom it.”

budget cuts, Chicago State University, Colby Bermel, Eastern Illinois University, illinois college, Principia College, News


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