Daily Egyptian

Students come together to rally against budget impasse in Springfield

By Tierra Carpenter, @TierraMC_

SIU students, faculty and staff traveled to Springfield on Wednesday for a Lobby Day to rally against the state’s budget impasse, which has left Illinois universities and colleges without state funding since July 1. 

State representatives Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn, and Robert W. Pritchard, R-DeKalb, spoke during the rally, where a few hundred students and faculty from universities across the state came together for the same cause. Graduate and Professional Student Council President Brandon Woudenberg called the effort productive and inspiring.

Members of the SIU community also met with legislators and representatives to express their disappointment with the continued budget stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature. 

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Abigail Tochalauski, one of many students who may be required to pay back her Monetary Award Program grant, said she participated in the event because she felt she could make more of a statement in Springfield than in Carbondale. But she said Lobby Day turned out to be “kind of a bummer” because she only spoke with Democratic state Rep. John Bradley, of Marion, who has established that he is voting in favor of funding higher education.

“I’d rather speak to someone who is on the fence, because I feel like, not necessarily that I’d make an impact, but our group as an entire voice would help,” said Tochalauski, a sophomore from Peoria studying anthropology and communications studies.

David Johnson, an associate professor in languages, cultures and international trade, said he met with Republican Sen. David Luechtefeld, Okawville, who said he is more hopeful than he has been that there may be some temporary funding for public institutions.

“That’s only part of the issue of course,” Johnson said. “That would be very welcome. Any money would be welcome. Some proportion of our budget is not enough to allow us to really start making solid plans for the future and rebuild the university after what it’s been through.”

Students from SIU’s School of Medicine in Springfield were also there in protest. Alexandra Barger, a second-year medical student from Murphysboro, said she and her classmates were there to support future students. 

“Since we’ve all come really far in higher education and we owe a lot of our success now to being able to go to college… we feel that it is really important that people who are currently younger, graduating from high school, have the same opportunities,” Barger said.

Willie Lyles III, a second-year law student from Bythewood, North Carolina, said he is concerned about the future of the law school.

SIU President Randy Dunn said in March that under Rauner’s proposed budget, SIU would lose $23 million — 20 percent of its state funding. That would put the law school at risk of losing its state funding, which is about $3 million.

This would be about a 30 percent cut of the law school’s $10 million budget, which means the school would operate primarily on tuition. 

SIU brought 20 people via bus while others drove separately. Student government was hoping 100 SIU students would come out because two charter buses were purchased for the trip.

“While today wasn’t as successful as we may have hoped, we look forward to future opportunities to engage our legislative leaders,” Bythewood said.

Woudenberg said Lobby Day could’ve went better if there were more students who got involved and if they were able to talk to more legislatures.

“It’s always frustrating when you try to go up to Springfield and they’re in session because you can’t always pull them off the floor like you’d like to,” Woudenberg said.

Ben Handler, a sophomore from Beverly, Mass., studying aviation management and business management, said he attended Lobby Day because he’s seen the effects of the impasse on campus, including university employees having to serve in multiple positions and students leaving the university.

“It’s really important that the government knows that we as students care about the budget and we understand that there’s problems making a budget, but you have to work through these problems and you have to find a way to fund education in Illinois,” he said.

Handler was one of four people from SIU who was able to meet with Democratic Sen. Gary Forby. He said meeting with Democrats wasn’t very helpful “because these are the people that already support higher education.”

“From their side of the aisle, they can’t really do much because it’s the Republicans that need to be persuaded that higher education is worth the money,” Handler said.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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