Gov. Rauner Is Dismantling Programs That Fight Racial Disparities in Education

A good education is essential to ensuring that a person can reach his or her full potential. But in Illinois, as in the rest of the United States, educational opportunities are profoundly unequal across racial lines. This failure to ensure robust educational opportunities for all leads to broad racial disparities in employment and income later in life. Thus, investing in programs that address these disparities by providing educational opportunities and support to communities of color should be a top priority for our political leadership.

African-American studentUnfortunately, this is not the case in Illinois. Since the onset of the budget impasse on July 1st, and continuing into the beginning of this year’s budget debate, Governor Rauner has demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice programs that meaningfully address the racial gap in education.

His refusal to negotiate a budget until his non-budget policy agenda is adopted has cut off funding to two education programsTeen REACH and the Monetary Award Program (MAP)—that have been proven to improve the educational outcomes of Illinois’s black and Hispanic students. These are programs that can help us progress towards a more equitable Illinois.   

Teen REACH offers safe afterschool programming for at-risk youth living in communities with high poverty and crime rates through tutoring, mentoring, service, and education on risky behavior. Teen REACH has demonstrated success in improving educational and behavioral outcomes for youth—almost 75% of whom are black or Latino—in the communities the programs serve. In 2014, 67% of participants went to school more frequently, 76% earned better grades, and 81% completed more of their homework.

But Teen REACH has gone without state funding since July 1st. At least sixteen programs around the state have shut down and deprived 1,500 at-risk youth of services; failure to pass a budget threatens the same result for each of the 14,000 youth who participate in a typical year.

Illinois’s MAP grants help make college education more affordable for about 130,000 students each year by providing state-funded tuition assistance to financially eligible college students. MAP grants range from $300 to almost $5,000 and are based on the number of credit hours in which the student is enrolled. MAP grants are vital in enabling students of color to attend college, as more than half of all black and Hispanic students at Illinois’s public universities are recipients.

The racial gap in college achievement is an obstacle that must be overcome in order to achieve educational equity in Illinois. While white students have a graduation rate of 56% at Illinois’s four-year public colleges, black students graduate at a rate of just 35%, and Hispanic students graduate at a rate of 42%. Fortunately, MAP grants are a proven tool effective in raising graduation rates, with MAP grant recipients graduating at the same rate as non-recipient students

Nevertheless, the MAP grants program has received no funding since the onset of the budget impasse. Most colleges and universities compensated recipient students for lost funding during the fall semester, but since institutions of higher education also have not received any state funding since July, many schools can no longer afford to do so. According to a recent survey conducted by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), nearly half of Illinois’s colleges will not be crediting MAP grants this semester, including 80% of all community colleges in Illinois. The impact of this is devastating.  Already, 1,000 students have had to drop out of college as a direct result of the loss of their MAP funding. 

In his annual budget address for the coming 2017 fiscal year last week, Governor Rauner once more demonstrated his complete disinterest in the fate of these effective programs as he announced he would continue to hold the budget and direly needed revenue hostage to his non-budget policy agenda. Instead of using his budget proposal to stand for programs that fight for educational opportunity and success for all, he used it to leverage his political agenda. It is clear that Governor Rauner has no problem allowing the dismantling of these programs to continue.

We have tools at our disposal to build a more equitable Illinois. Governor Rauner needs only to stop prioritizing his political agenda over his constituents’ needs and invest in programs that give all Illinoisans a better and fairer chance for successful and happy lives. 

Nat Schwartz contributed to this blog post. 

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