Chicago Public Schools students rallied Friday evening at the Thompson Center, where they called on Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers to come to a budget solution in order to avert deep cuts and layoffs at CPS.
Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students rallied at the Thompson Center Friday evening to call for a solution to the school district's budget crisis, which could result in massive teacher layoffs in the coming months if gridlocked Springfield fails to come through with $480 million in financial support.
The students marched around the Thompson Center chanting, "S.O.S. Save our schools!" Later, they staged a die-in to symbolize the negative impact of school budget cuts.
The school district's 2016 budget depends on $480 million in pension savings from state government, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remain locked in a budget battle. School officials have warned that some 5,000 teachers could be laid off after January if CPS doesn't get the financial help it needs.
If such layoffs occur, there "will be catastrophic consequences," stressed Charles Kotrba, a senior at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School.
"You can't move on from that. You can't function," he told Progress Illinois. "For years, we've already been divested from, and we've been underresourced. And then to take away one-fifth of our teachers ... it honestly terrifies me what it will be like."
In addition to CPS, the city of Chicago and its transit agency are also looking to the General Assembly for financial assistance. Overall, the city needs more than $800 million in help from the state.
The ask comes as Rauner and Democratic lawmakers continue to feud over a 2016 budget, which was supposed to be in place more than four months ago.
Rauner is trying to win items on his "turnaround agenda" through the budgeting process. Some of those items include workers' compensation reforms, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining. Democrats, who vehemently oppose Rauner's anti-union policy proposals in particular, argue that Rauner's "turnaround agenda" items are non-budget issues.
Rauner has been pressing Emanuel to support his controversial union-weakening measures, which the mayor opposes. The governor has said he'd be willing to help out the city of Chicago financially, if the mayor supports his proposed reforms.
Students said it's time for elected officials to come to agreement.
"It's really sad to know that politicians that we elect in office, that our parents elect in office, are really going against us," said Nidalis Burgos, a senior at Lincoln Park High School, who said she's worried about programs such as art being cut from her school if the budget situation is not resolved.
The rallying students saw support from state Reps. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago).
Guzzardi spoke about the state budget impasse and told the students that Rauner "is trying to use your education to get his agenda."
"The governor figures that CPS is in crisis right now, so all of a sudden these Democrats from Chicago are going to have to compromise on their core values, on protecting working families, on defending those in need -- that we're going to sell all those things out to fix CPS. That's what he wants," Guzzardi said. "Here's what I'm here to tell you: We, Christian and I, the rest of the Democrats in Springfield, we're going to go down there and fight for a fair budget ... and we're not going to sell out working families in the state to do it."
Here's more from Guzzardi and Mitchell, plus scenes from the protest:
The state representatives in attendance spoke in support of fair-share revenues as possible solutions to avert budget cuts at the state level and CPS. Mitchell said Rauner "needs to stop putting his campaign donors first and start putting students first."