Illinois students fired up over funding cuts

CHICAGO – At a spirited rally here May 2, several hundred mostly college students, gathered at the State of Illinois building to protest cuts in education funding proposed by the Illinois state legislature. The legislature wants to eliminate all Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for private colleges and universities in the 2003 fiscal budget.

The MAP program gives about 140,000 Illinois students up to $4,968 a year for tuition and fees. The average family income for MAP recipients is $28,000. Columbia College on the Ground, a student activist group that sponsored the rally, said one out of every three Columbia students receives the MAP grant and 56 percent are minority students.

The protesters, including African American, Latino, Asian American and white students, evoked the spirit of May Day as they resolved to stop the cuts. For many, this was their first time attending a demonstration. They marched with signs, home made maracas and drums from the State of Illinois building to City Hall, chanting “Students united will never be defeated” and “Education is our right – Fight! Fight! Fight!”

“These cuts will not only affect the students but also many of the part-time union teachers that, because of a decrease in enrollment, will be the first ones to lose their jobs,” Christopher Pluta, a Columbia College journalism student, told the World. “The tax cuts for the rich, the economy and the increase in military spending are primarily responsible for these cuts.”

Natasha Allen, an African-American student who will also be affected by the funding cuts, told the World, “These elected officials need to know that just like they were voted in to office, they can be voted out of office. War is a coverup for what Bush is doing, trying to keep the poor poor and the rich rich.”

Speaking at the rally, State Senator Emil Jones told the students, “I am opposed to any cuts in education.” He said legislators would look for other sources to make budget cuts. But a number of rally participants indicated they do not want the budget to be balanced at the expense of working-class and low-income people.

“The purpose of the MAP grant program,” the Columbia College student group said in a statement, “is to promote access to post-secondary education by reducing financial barriers; to promote school choice; and to reduce the cost to the state by making more effective use of the resources and facilities of private colleges, thus reducing enrollment pressures at public institutions.”

The state of Illinois faces a $1.5 billion deficit for next year. Many demonstrators said that, with tuition going up all over the state and massive cuts in education being discussed in the state legislature, there will be many more rallies and demonstrations. They are looking for unions and community organizations to join them in protesting cuts in education funding.

The author can be reached at cpilance1@aol.com