SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Thousands of students, educators and community leaders filled the Capitol rotunda here May 18 to protest the deepening crisis of state education funding. The protesters came from all over the state.

More than 80 percent of the state’s school districts are in the red, especially working class, poor and majority African American, Latino and other minority districts. Recently, the Chicago Public Schools announced plans to lay off 1,000 teachers to cover a $175 million deficit.

“This is a sorry state of affairs,” said Michael Scott, president of the Chicago Board of Education. “The system is structurally broken and you will fix it,” he told the cheering crowd.

School districts are forced to rely heavily on local property taxes. The state funds 30 percent of local school revenues compared to the national average of 50 percent. Illinois, 7th in per capita income nationally, ranks last in education spending.

The funding formula creates huge disparities between districts, ranging from $4,300 per pupil in the poorest to more than $18,000 in the wealthiest. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s schoolchildren come from low-income families.

Sally Newman, a student at Chicago’s Jones Prep High School, had just finished touring seven cities and towns with Chicago educators. “There are sad stories across the state. Classes cut, schools closed. This is not a Chicago issue, it’s a statewide issue,” she told the crowd.

“I’m here for the third time to break the shackles of inequitable funding,” said John Bradley, a parent organizer at Chicago’s Thorton High School. “It’s going to take some courage on behalf of the legislators to stand up and do it.”

Many rally sponsors supported SB 750, which would have raised the regressive state income tax from 3 to 5 percent, reduced property taxes by 30 percent and given a tax credit to renters.

It would have also increased the minimum per-child amount the state pays to $6,100 from the 2004-2005 level of $4,964 and guaranteed yearly increases; fully funded all mandated special education programs; and provided additional funding for state universities and community colleges.

However, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Meeks, withdrew the legislation a day after the rally, conceding it didn’t have enough support, including from Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Democrats.

In a statement the Communist Party of Illinois blasted the Bush policies of militarization and corporate tax breaks, which are bankrupting cities and states across the country. Over $11 billion has been drained from Illinois to pay for the illegal Iraq war, the statement noted. In addition, the state has been shortchanged more than $400 million from the federal mandates in the No Child Left Behind law.

Rather than raising taxes on working families, the Communist Party urged taxing the corporations and wealthy and transferring funds from the military budget to education and social needs. That $11 billion from Illinois could have funded: 154,000 teachers; 1.1 million children in Head Start; insurance for 5 million children and 432,000 four-year scholarships at public universities, the statement said.