Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., March 28, 29 or 30
Already, administrators are planning to lay off faculty and eliminate entire programs at Western Illinois University (WIU) and other state schools – all in addition to withholding promised financial aid to eligible students. The situation’s so dire that Chicago State University issued about 900 layoff notices and may have to close early this semester, and WIU is trying to trim $20 million from a budget already hard hit by years of underfunding, forcing some workers to take unpaid days off.
"We are deeply disappointed and frustrated with Gov. Rauner and the Republicans who support his political agenda over our students, their districts and the state's future," says John Miller, a WIU communication professor and president of University Professionals of Illinois union (full disclosure: I was a member before I retired from WIU).
“The governor claims to prioritize education but fails to support Illinois colleges and universities,” Miller added. “We need to fund our future, and we need to do it now."
As the state approaches 10 months without a budget, it’s worth recalling that Rauner last year vetoed the budget the legislature sent him, except a provision funding K-12 education. This year, he won’t make that exception, according to Springfield lobbyists. (Emily Miller of Voices for Illinois Children recently said Illinois politicians will probably shift focus to November’s elections.) What makes Rauner’s obstruction not only heartless but ridiculous is that the state set a “foundation level” of $6,119 per K-12 student, yet had reduced funding to 89 percent of what’s needed, and then reneges on all the promised payments.
Some superintendents say if there’s no budget by May 31, some schools may not open in the fall.
Maybe if that happens, everyday Illinoisans will demand Rauner negotiate with lawmakers on revenues and expenditures instead of demanding unrelated issues be passed, from enacting local Right-To-Work (for less), cutting workers compensation and limiting jury awards in civil lawsuits, to eliminating Prevailing Wage laws and freezing property taxes.
At colleges, some employees and even administrators are concerned that the state will shut down whole campuses, which conjures nightmares of empty buildings unsuitable for either video-gaming/lottery complexes or minimum-security prisons – two one-time sources of economic “development.”
All this is the opposite of economic development, of course, despite Rauner’s supposed goal. (Surely the University of Iowa, Missouri/St. Louis, Indiana State and other nearby colleges are recruiting Illinois students by noting their funding and available financial aid, for example.) And if there’s a Republican “trickle-down” effect, it’s foul and headed for entire regions, not just thousands of students, and hundreds of professors and support personnel.
For example, I grew up, went to college and taught in western Illinois, a region the late activist Neil Gamm dubbed “Forgottonia.” That 16-county region already suffers from traits hitting much of rural America -- a population that’s older and also declining as fast as the median household income. Killing major employers and cultural centers that attract and keep younger residents kicks these areas while they’re down.
Although many mostly blame Rauner – as shown by his disapproval rating now down to 51.6 percent – the General Assembly is responsible for not repeatedly sending budgets to the governor’s mansion. The situation with the budget in general and education in particular is reminiscent of a line by journalist, novelist and critic G.K. Chesterton, who in a 1924 essay, “The Blunders of Our Parties,” observed, “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition.”
In Macomb, the March 31 march is scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m. at WIU’s administration building and head to Macomb’s business district for a 5:30 p.m. rally.
It’s past time for Illinoisans in all regions to rally to demand what they deserve. If public outcry doesn’t increase, from Macomb to Charleston and Carbondale to DeKalb, the plight could worsen to the point where bumper stickers will likely appear: “Will the last person to leave Illinois please turn out the lights?”
[PICTURED: Students, faculty and community members at EIU recently rallied in Charleston for the state to fund public education. Photo from rebootillinois.com]