Chicago State University students and their supporters rallied at the Thompson Center Monday morning, demanding state action to avert a possible shutdown of the predominately black university due to the budget impasse.
Holding signs that read, "Black minds matter" and "Save CSU," students urged Gov. Bruce Rauner and state legislators to end the ongoing fiscal battle that has left Illinois without a budget since July 1.
CSU serves over 4,000 students and depends on the state for 30 percent of its budget. The university and other Illinois higher education institutions have gone unfunded during the stalemate in Springfield. As a result, CSU declared itself in a financial state of emergency last week, increasing the possibility of layoffs and cuts to keep the university operating. CSU officials have previously stated that the university could go broke by March.
CSU senior Lakeisha Perry, a psychology major on track to graduate next December, said the budget uncertainty is "nerve-wracking."
"You work so hard and then this happens," she told Progress Illinois at the Thompson Center.
The possibility of CSU having to close because of the budget impasse "just kills your dreams," she said. "It's just a hurtful situation."
Perry is a recipient of the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP), which provides tuition assistance to low-income Illinois college students. As a result of MAP funding being caught up in the state budget battle, Perry said she has not received her tuition grant. As a full-time student, Perry said she has had to work a full-time job in order to afford tuition.
She urged lawmakers to free up higher education funds.
"I just want someone to figure this [budget situation] out, and figure it out really quickly, because Chicago State has saved a lot of lives," Perry said. "It's a neighborhood school for a lot of people. So I just feel like we need to fix this fast."
From the Thompson Center, the group marched to and protested outside the downtown offices of GTCR, a private equity firm formerly headed by Rauner, located at 300 N. LaSalle St.
"We're not in class where we want to be, where we should be. Right now, we are here trying to get our message heard," said CSU graduate student Michael Weigand. "We need a budget in order for us to just have the basic opportunity to go to school. We're not asking for anything fancy. We just want to go to school."
In response to the protest, Rauner's office released a statement.
"Chicago State could be funded tomorrow if the Democrats in the legislature supported HB 4539/SB 2349," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly. "That bill would fund MAP grants, community colleges and all of Illinois' public universities while giving the Governor the authority to respond to an unbalanced budget by reallocating funds and reducing spending in a number or ways."
Democrats oppose the HB 4539/SB 2349 measure because it is tied to provisions that would give the governor greater authority over the budget during a fiscal crisis. Democrats passed legislation late last month to provide $721.5 million in state funding to community colleges and MAP, but the governor has promised to veto it due to a lack of state revenue and cuts to offset the cost.
"They're not just withholding money, they're withholding lives," said CSU senior and African-American studies major Charles Preston. "I shouldn't have to protest for the state legislature to sign a budget."
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) stood with the CSU students.
"Eight months without a budget has exacerbated poverty and violence," he said. "We're suffering from gun violence throughout our city on the South Side and the West Sides of Chicago. This is unconscionable."
Here's more from Boykin, plus comments from CSU student Paris Griffin and scenes from the protest:
CSU students plan to visit Springfield on February 17, the date of Rauner's budget address. They have also reached out to the Obama administration about their school's situation, but say they have not yet heard back.
Check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.