A victory for state funded schools but still no permanent solution

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)

Christian Mitchell
State Rep. (D-26)

Last week, in an important victory for our students in higher education, the Illinois legislature passed a bill that provided emergency funding for some of our most cash-strapped public colleges and universities – including Chicago State University. Without this funding, CSU would have been forced to close its doors on the students that they serve – largely students of color, low income students and non-traditional students.

The measure, however, was not a complete higher education budget for the last 10 months, nor is it a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins merely weeks from now. Rather, it was a temporary fix, aimed to keep our most vulnerable students from facing a potentially catastrophic interruption in their studies – and despite its passage, CSU still laid off 300 people.

But how did we get here? How did we get to a point where the public colleges and universities that serve some of our most vulnerable and at-risk students are on the brink of collapse?

We arrived here because for over 10 months now, Gov. Bruce Rauner has decided to hold every state program and service – with the exception of K-12 education – hostage to his political agenda which would decimate working class communities by gutting unions, lowering wages and scrapping workplace protections. Among the hostages have been CSU students and their futures. And this was no accident – the Governor’s proposed budgets over the past two years have gutted higher education, a vital lifeline for communities across Illinois and a bridge to a brighter future for our citizens.

It’s important to note that while the governor may have signed a bill that provided these students with a life raft today, it was his decision to steer the Titanic into the iceberg in the first place.

But even beyond the political crisis that the governor, himself, has manufactured – if we’re going to truly invest in our students and prevent these crises from popping up every few months, we need to have a serious conversation about revenue. We need to reform our archaic and unfair tax code to reflect today’s changing economy and tax base. We need to reform a system that allows two-thirds of corporations to pay nothing in income tax. And we need to ask those who have done very well for themselves to pay a little bit more so that we can invest in all of our students and ensure they have the same opportunities to be successful.

I’m pleased that my constitutional amendment to allow for a progressive income tax was passed out of committee earlier this month, and that the conversations and appetite to reform our revenue structure in Illinois have been picking up speed.

I want to thank the sea of students – many from CSU – who I saw down in Springfield lobbying their legislators and putting pressure on the governor to set aside his political agenda and invest in their education. But the fight is not won. I remain committed, and we will all need your help.