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Thursday, April 6, 2017 12:08 am

Protesters demand funding for adult ed



Protesters from across the state gathered at the Capitol in Springfield March 29 to demand that lawmakers end the budget crisis and fund adult education.

 The event was organized by the Illinois Adult and Continuing Educators Association (IACEA). The IACEA promotes the education of adults by helping them achieve high school equivalency, improve their literacy skills and pursue career opportunities through various programs at adult centers and community colleges. In 2016, 81,661 students were in adult education programs, according to the Illinois Community College Board.

Since the budget impasse began, grants for adult literacy programs have been reduced by 50 percent, according to a report released last month by the Responsible Budget Coalition. (See Why We Need Adequate Revenue: Illinois in Chaos, Responsible Budget Coalition.) The lack of funding has hampered self-reliance for the 2.1 million Illinoisans with low literacy skills who could benefit from these programs. Brittany Bailey, a student from Urbana Adult Education Center (UAEC) graduating in May, asked how her classmates would be able to continue their education if funding is stripped. “If funding is taken away from us, how can the rest of my fellow students be able to graduate with a high school equivalency diploma? We need to stick together and fight for what we believe in, and that is adult education,” she said.

 Garland Allen, also an UAEC student, said UAEC provided him a second chance to fulfill his education. “When I first started in UAEC, I didn’t like it at first. I got expelled in high school, so I wasn’t able to get the full aspect of education and how important it was to me,” he said. “However, I got the hang of it thanks to teachers who were very helpful, and now I am proud to say I’m graduating.” Allen then appealed to lawmakers to end the impasse so funding can be provided to the programs. “I’m not only speaking for myself and my peers, I’m speaking for kids who may be in this same position in the future, because what we do now affects them as well,” he said. “If the budget gets cut, then we’re cut.”

 Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, empathized with the protesters by sharing his educational past. “I graduated high school when I was 18, and I graduated college when I was 33, so I know what it is like to take a long and winding road to prosper in higher education,” he said. “I salute you. I salute your persistence, your guts and I salute the fact that you balanced your family and work responsibilities by staying in school.”

 McGuire, who is the chairperson of the Senate Higher Education Committee, explained that he and his fellow lawmakers have a responsibility to support adult education. “We have an obligation to support you,” McGuire said. “We, the 59 members of the Senate, the 118 members of the House and Gov. Bruce Rauner. It’s been almost two years since the state of Illinois has had a budget. No other state in the nation has ever gone this long without a budget. People are being hurt.”

 Elizabeth Pioli, nursing education consultant for the secretary of state, thanked the protesters for coming together in solidarity. “On behalf of Secretary of State Jesse White, I’d like to thank all of you for coming to Springfield to let your legislators and the governor know that adult education and literacy services are important to you,” she said. As you can tell, there are adult literacy programs all over the state, and finding the money to fund these programs is very important to the secretary of state, but he needs your help,” she said. “You are all citizens of Illinois and your opinion is important. You need to let those people who make legislative decisions know how essential it is to you that money is spent on literacy and adult education so that Secretary White can continue to fund these programs.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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