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Public Education at Stake in Illinois

The current economic crisis is having a devasting impact on state budgets across the country. The Illinois budget is in crisis and the budget cuts proposed by Gov George Ryan have sparked a big battle with labor, community and advocacy groups.
Chicago - The current economic crisis is having a devastating impact on state budgets across the country. States have an estimated collective deficit of $90 billion.
The Illinois budget is in crisis and the budget cuts proposed by Gov George Ryan have sparked a big battle with labor, community and advocacy groups. The cuts would eliminate 3,800 state workers, and impact heavily on public education and health care especially in poor and minority, the elderly and disabled communities.
Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Economics maintains cutting public spending during an economic crisis makes no sense. “It not only weakens the vital public services (when they are needed most) that are provided at the state and local levels, but also deepens the economic downturn,” he says.
Gov. Ryan’s proposed budget will accelerate the state public education crisis. Ryan proposes to eliminate 22 special grant programs in education totaling $500 million and rolling it into the general education budget. But these programs target especially working class, minority and poor districts and would eliminate grants for school breakfast, bilingual education, early childhood education and other programs. Chicago stands to lose $40 million in funds while some wealthy districts will actually gain funding.
Meanwhile, the state is also facing its worst ever teacher shortage. It has been estimated by State Board of Education chair Ronald Gidwitz that 64,000 teachers will be needed over the next four years, as many retire or leave the state.
“We are clearly in a crisis... that has yet to be solved. It’s a dire situation,” Gidwitz said.
Last year 42,000 public school children, half in Chicago, started the year with uncertified teachers. Over 2,200 teacher positions went unfilled, half again in Chicago. This writer knows first hand about the shortage crisis. My son who is a 5th grade student, has had no less than five teachers this year.
As the funding crisis has deepened over the past four years, teacher attrition has skyrocketed 60% and administrator attrition 80%. With no money allocated for salary raises and reducing class sizes, this crisis can only worsen.
Because of stagnat teacher salaries, there has also been a decline in the number of university students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. Could the steadily rising tuition at the state universities also be having an effect?
The state education crisis is rooted in heavy reliance on property taxes. Over half of the state’s school districts are now in the red and will be forced to cut. Most working class communities simply can’t afford further property taxes hikes.
The education budget is bloated, say rightwing Republicans, so live with what you’ve got. They call for more tax cuts for the rich and corporations to stimulate the economy. But this loots the state treasury of revenues and de facto forces the destruction of public education.
Luckily a broadly based labor led coalition is fighting to stop the cuts and insists that $1.3 billion in savings and new revenues can be found by closing tax loopholes to the rich, the pooling of prescription drugs purchases and other means. A massive Solidarity Rally on the capital in Springfield has been called by the Illinois Federation of Labor for April 24. The Federation also sees the rally as a way to gear up for November and the election of pro-labor, pro-people candidates that will adopt a worker friendly budget.



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