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Lack of  School Funding Fueling Student Protests

By Robert T. Starks

Chicago Defender Contributing Writer

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As we watch the seemingly endless budget battle between the Democratic legislative majority led by House Speaker Michael Madigan and the Republicans led by a determined Gov. Bruce Rauner, we are left to wonder if these two state government leaders understand the misery that this stalemate has caused the people of Illinois.

Chicago’s safety net has been pulled down and stomped on! Every state-funded social and educational institution has been crippled by this ineptness. This includes the Chicago Public Schools, Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and numerous Black social service agencies that are unable to operate without state subsidies. Because Black agencies have little or no reserves, many have had to close down operations.

However, the lack of state funding has captured national attention because of the colleges and universities. All of the state’s public colleges and universities with the exception of the University of Illinois are either on the brink of closing their doors at the end of this semester, laying off teachers and administrators, eliminating academic programs and entire departments, or cutting back on their commitment to low-income students because of the lack of state funding assistance for tuition.

This crisis is particularly acute within the Black community of Chicago. The majority of low-income Black students in the city attend Chicago State University (CSU) and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

These two universities are primarily commuter schools that typically have a large number of Black female undergraduates, many of whom have children. Most of the Black male students work during the day and can only attend classes that are scheduled after 5 p.m.

Evening classes (after 5 p.m.) are being cut back because of low enrollment, which puts Black students, especially Black males, at a severe disadvantage. Added to this dilemma is the reality that daycare services, state funded tuition aid, and book vouchers are not available.

Currently, the average student could spend more than $500 per semester on books and supplies required for classes. These expenses that occur in conjunction with a student’s readiness for classes highlight the need for an end to the budget crisis.

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Chicago State’s Situation

Close examination of this situation reveals that the problems facing Black students at CSU and NEIU are multiplied by the lack of state funding.

While 80 percent of CSU’s students are Black, most of its teachers, both full-time tenured and adjunct, are White. CSU has 4,500 students and some 300 full-time and part-time faculty.

Of the 300 teachers at CSU, 55 percent are women and 45 percent are male. Thus, Black males at this institution do not have the much-needed Black male leadership and role model presence.

Black females at CSU comprise 71 percent of the student body while 29 percent are male. The school has a two percent four-year graduation rate while the six-year graduation rate is 19 percent.

While CSU is often referred to as a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), it is not. Founded in 1867 as a normal school to train teachers, it was later called Teacher’s College South and its sister institution on the North Side (NEIU) was called Teacher’s College North. In the 1960s, Teacher’s College South took the name of Chicago State University when it expanded its offerings and later moved to its present location at 95th and King Drive.

The financial crisis at CSU has been simmering since the beginning of the fall semester when administrators realized that they would not receive state funding because of the state budget stalemate. CSU and other state universities have been operating without state funding since July of 2015. Administrators and members of the Board of Trustees have stated that they require about $5 million a month to operate. Accordingly, about $36 million, or 30 percent of its operation budget comes from the state, and the rest is made up from tuition and foundation funds. Analysis shows that only three percent of the budget for contracts is given to Black contractors.

Since there is no end in sight to the crisis in Springfield, the school has declared a financial emergency in accordance with the traditions and guidelines of the American Association of University Professors. This declaration allows the university to begin plans for layoffs, cut backs of programs, closure of buildings and other cost saving measures.

This crisis has sparked student demonstrations on campus and throughout the city. Students have shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway, attended legislative sessions in Springfield, and picketed the Governor’s office in downtown Chicago.

This financial crisis is especially painful for the CSU basketball team because they have had to scale back on their travel and other necessary expenses that accompany a competitive sports program. In fact, the entire athletic program offerings are now subject to cuts and possible eliminations.

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Northeastern And The Center For Inner City Studies 

NEIU has a total enrollment of 8,000 students. Approximately 1,000 of them are enrolled at the Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS), located at 700 East Oakwood Blvd., on the South Side of Chicago.

The majority of the students and CCICS faculty are Black. NEIU has been declared a Hispanic Serving Institution, with a majority of its students coming from the Hispanic communities in and around the city.

CCICS was founded in 1968 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to train teachers and inner-city serving professionals to look at the inner city and its residents from an African American perspective, without the traditional racist perspective.

CCICS has graduated the majority of the Black students that have received undergraduate and graduate degrees from NEIU. At the same time, almost none of the contractual budget spent by the university is given to Black contractors. Less than 10 percent of the NEIU faculty is Black while almost the majority of the Black students at NEIU are enrolled at CCICS.

Black students at NEIU suffer from the same problems that plague CSU. In a recent statement, President Sharon Hahs declared that “We will be able to make it through the end of the semester; however, if we do not receive funding after May, our summer school and fall semesters are in danger!”

In the midst of this statewide crisis, one is forced to question the sanity of the state legislators and the governor. Black citizens are now bombarding their state legislators with questions of when and how this crisis will end.

Ironically, most of the Black state legislators received their degrees from state schools. Most of those who have received degrees from state schools attended either CSU or NEIU.

The great majority of Illinois voters either did not hear or understand the tone and tenor of Governor Rauner’s campaign rhetoric when he stated that he was determined to hold the budget hostage until he was guaranteed an agreement to his turn-around program to transform the state government. If they did, he may not have received the majority of the votes that won him the election.

Some observers have suggested that we ask his three high-profile African-American supporters (Reverends Willie Wilson, James Meeks, and Cory Brooks) to explain the governor’s actions and tell us when and how we will be able to break this stalemate.

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