CHICAGO – The current economic crisis is having a devastating impact on state budgets across the country. States have an estimated collective deficit of $50 billion. The Illinois budget is in crisis, and the budget cuts proposed by Gov. George Ryan have sparked a big battle with labor, community and advocacy groups.

Ryan’s proposed budget will accelerate the state public education crisis. Ryan proposes to eliminate 22 special grant programs in education, totaling $500 million, and roll those monies into the general education budget. These programs target working class, minority and poor districts. The grants provide for school breakfast, bilingual education, early childhood education and other programs in these recipient districts. Chicago stands to lose $40 million in funds, while some wealthy districts will actually gain funding.

Meanwhile, the state is also facing its worst-ever teacher shortage. It has been estimated by State Board of Education Chair Ronald Gidwitz that 64,000 teachers will be needed over the next four years, as many retire or leave the state. “We are clearly in a crisis … that has yet to be solved. It’s a dire situation,” Gidwitz said.

As the funding crisis has deepened over the past four years, teacher attrition has skyrocketed 60 percent and administrator attrition 80 percent. With no money allocated for salary raises and reducing class sizes, this crisis can only worsen.

Because of stagnant teacher salaries, there has also been a decline in the number of university students enrolling in teacher preparation programs. Last year 42,000 public school children, half in Chicago, started the year with uncertified teachers. Over 2,200 teacher positions went unfilled, half in Chicago.

The state education crisis is rooted in its heavy reliance on property taxes. Over half of the state’s school districts are now in the red and will be forced to cut. Most working-class communities simply can’t afford property tax hikes.

Overall, Ryan’s proposed budget cuts would eliminate the jobs of 3,800 state workers. In addition to the impact on public education, the cuts will also hurt health care, especially in poor and minority communities.

A broad-based, labor-led coalition is fighting to stop the cuts and insists that $1.3 billion in savings and new revenues can be found by closing tax loopholes to the rich, the pooling of prescription drugs purchases, and other means.

The Illinois Federation of Labor has called a massive Solidarity Rally in Springfield for April 24. The Federation sees the rally as a way to gear up for the November elections and to build support for pro-labor, pro-people candidates that will adopt a worker friendly budget.

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