Two state representatives are confident the legislation they're proposing Dec. 2 will provide funding to reinstate both Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language programs statewide.
State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) and Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) said, during a press conference at Erie Neighborhood House in West Chicago Tuesday morning, announcing their new bill would likely be approved and release $43 million in federal funds to the Illinois Community College Board (ICBB) to provide the adult education.
“So this bill is just a step,” said Hernandez before a mob of advocates amid tremendous enthusiasm. “You have legislators that are working on behalf and who understand this, but your involvement, your voice, your support is what's making this happen. So don't let up. Keep fighting the fight because in the end we are going to get there.”
The press conference was organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Refugee Rights (ICIRR), Erie Neighborhood House, Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition and Literacy Works on behalf of about 190 community colleges and community-based organizations.
Five months into the ongoing Illinois budget impasse, the consequence of the ideological and political dispute between Gov. Bruce Rauner, the Republican who took office in January, and the Democrats who hold a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature, adult education programs are struggling to make ends meet without access to federal dollars and state matching funds.
Also, the Immigration Services Line Item, which is 0.01 percent of overall budget at $6.7 million administered by ICIRR, was completely eliminated on Gov. Rauner's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016. As a result, more than 60 immigrant serving community-based organizations are no longer providing services or have to reduce their services drastically while also cutting 200 to 300 jobs. This year, 102,000 immigrants, refugees and adult members will not be provided services.
“So many of them have actually exhausted their cash reserves, many have open lines of credit to just keep on going the next few months,” said Breandán Magee, 37, senior director of programming at ICIRR, adding that the state government currently violates the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which requires state governments that receive Federal financial assistance to ensure access to their programs, services and activities by people with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
More than 60 adult educators and learners and other advocates from Erie Neighborhood House, Centro Romero, Tolton Center, Albany Park Community Center (APCC) and the Allied Health Care Career Network (AHCCN) attended the press conference to urge the governor and legislators in Springfield to put aside their differences and create a budget immediately.
Surrounded by the signs reading “Gov. Rauner, Save Adult Education” and “No Education, No Opportunity,” representatives from several agencies, who spoke at the conference, all emphasized that adult education services are vital to community health, community safety and overall strength of local economy.
“If the governor and the general assembly do not contribute to fund adult education, who will prepare for that 84,000 jobs?” said Jacqueline Summerville, director of AHCCN. “These jobs are not for children. These jobs are for adults.”
Riled at having to close one of its site, Centro Romero, which serves refugee immigrant population in the northeast side of Chicago, instigated participants to go to Springfield.
“We are here today because we are angry. We are very very angry with our state,” said Daysi Funes, 43, executive director of Centro Romero. “I ask the politicians, please stop being apathetic. If you don't understand what we do, roll your sleeves up and come in and work with us.”
On the contrary, Nube Vidal, a 33-year-old immigrant from Ecuador who was a ESL student and early childhood teacher at APCC, pleaded the state government to make a decision on the state budget.
“Before the school closed in September, I was doing my best to make a better life,” Vidal said between sobs. “If the governor does not sign the budget, our school will disappear, my job will disappear and my goals will disappear.”
After listening to speeches by state representatives near the end of the press conference, participants became keen on the possibility of federal funds more than ever.
“It's pretty exciting even if there is a smaller portion that is passed,” said Santia Lopez, 50, adult education coordinator of Onward Neighborhood House in Near North Side of Chicago. “We are going in the direction of adult education that’s still going to make a difference because some funds are better than no funds."
Since July 1, the start of 2016 fiscal year, the disagreement between the governor and legislative Democrats on the state’s finances and Rauner’s agenda has tied passage of the Illinois’ budget. During the past four months, bills were introduced by the state Sen. Pat McGuire (D), Sen. Sue Rezin (R) and Rep. Robert W. Pritchard (R) that would appropriates $18.5 million in federal funds for career and technical education and $24.5 million in federal funds for adult education.
The legislative leaders and the Gov. Rauner are expected to meet and discuss the budget on Dec. 2.