Daily Egyptian

SIU students join fight for higher education funding

SIU students (right to left) Tyler Yates, a freshman in zoology; Grace Vargas, a freshman in anthropology and Andrea Storey, a freshman in Spanish, were among the students chanting “save our schools” Feb. 17 at the State Capitol during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address.

SIU students (right to left) Tyler Yates, a freshman in zoology; Grace Vargas, a freshman in anthropology and Andrea Storey, a freshman in Spanish, were among the students chanting “save our schools” Feb. 17 at the State Capitol during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address.

By Anna Spoerre, @AnnaSpoerre

Students from across the state rallied at the State Capitol on Wednesday morning during Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget address, protesting the current and longest budget impasse in Illinois’ history. 

Hundreds of community members from Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois poured out of buses into the cold, signs in hand. While Rauner delivered his speech — in which he failed to mention higher education — the crowd moved from the front steps of the capitol to the rotundas inside, chanting, “Fund our schools,” and “When we are united, we will not close.” 

Four students and two faculty from SIU were present. One of those students was Grace Vargas, a freshman from Chicago studying anthropology, who knelt on the steps of the capitol, writing on a colorful piece of paper with the hashtag #INeedABudgetBecause.

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“The only way I can see our economy getting better … is if people are going to school, getting an education, having those opportunities and having that social mobility,” she said.

For more than eight months, Rauner and the Democratic Legislature have been unable to negotiate on a state budget, leaving universities and colleges without funding since July 1. The deadlock has left the state’s higher education institutions in a dire situation.

On Feb. 4, Chicago State University declared a financial crisis, allowing the institution on Chicago’s South Side to layoff faculty. More than 170 service workers were laid off this week at Eastern Illinois, where the mood is bleak, said David Gracon, a communication studies professor there.

“It’s sort of difficult to teach in that environment because there’s so much uncertainty as to whether or not the school will be open in the future,” he said.

SIU President Randy Dunn said he was very disappointed the governor did not mention higher education or Monetary Award Program grants, which are provided to low-income students, during his address.

“It’s not now, it’s not a month from now, but if we don’t see a resolution to this eventually, our day of reckoning is coming,” Dunn said. “That’s why we’re here.”

While addressing a crowd near a statue of former President Abraham Lincoln, Joe Haynes, student trustee at Harper College, said he is thankful his college hasn’t been drastically effected by the budget stalemate because, like SIU, it was able to front MAP grants for its students. He said it’s still important to support those who are in fear of having to put their academic lives on hold.

“This is our moment to stand and challenge a government … that does not consider our future to be more important than their current interests,” Haynes said. “We have to do something now.”

MORE: Loss of MAP grants could cost students more than money

But for students like Tyler Yates, an SIU freshman from Crete studying zoology, college may no longer be an option if MAP grants are not funded next semester.

“I’m very worried,” said Yates, a first generation college student who missed four of his classes Wednesday to join the rally in Springfield. “The Illinois government has a history of disappointing its people. It’s daunting.” 

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325. 

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