As we think about Tuesday’s election and approach the 500th day without an Illinois state budget on November 11th, we are reflecting on the current political climate in which we operate.  After the Presidential election, throughout our city, there was shock and dismay on how divided our country is.  Nationally, there is uncertainty of how new leadership in Washington will create policies so that more adults can enter a career pathway and access employment at a living wage.  

The national uncertainty is only compounded by more uncertainty at the state level.  The historic political impasse around Illinois’ budget has disrupted the state’s human services that provide a safety net for our most marginalized communities. Without state funding, many organizations have cut services, laid off staff, or closed entirely. The most recent data completed by the United Way of Illinois shows one million Illinois residents have lost services due to program cuts, and 91% of agencies have cut services. Overall, the budget impasse affects nearly 1 in 3 of us.

Adult education is no exception: the two major state funding streams have been greatly impacted by the lack of a budget. During FY 2016 (July 2014 – June 2015), the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) only awarded 50% of the Adult Volunteer Literacy Grants typically distributed to adult education providers. The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) delayed payments for the first 6 months of FY 2016, causing many programs to shut down due to the uncertainty of funding. Programs on the south and west sides of Chicago, the areas with the largest need, have been hit the hardest by the lack of state funding. Cuts to the SOS grants greatly impacted the south side, and most of the programs on the west side have stopped offering services.

The stopgap-spending bill passed in June provided some temporary relief. But, when this funding expires in December, programs will be left in a lurch again, without any state revenue. Organizations are feeling more uncertain than ever about their futures and adults with low literacy skills remain caught in the middle, struggling even more than before to find a stable program.

After seeing and feeling the impact of the political impasse, adult education organizations and providers banded together to advocate for a state budget. Throughout the year, organizations traveled to Springfield to meet directly with Representatives and bring the stories from the field into the chambers of the General Assembly. Last November, five months into the budget impasse, a group of adult education providers held a press conference to raise awareness about adult education and the need for a state budget. At the event, CCLC collaborated with Centro Romero, Erie Neighborhood House, Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Literacy Works, and others to create a forum where adult learners, providers, and State Representatives Cynthia Soto and Elizabeth Hernandez spoke out about the urgent need for a state budget.  To wrap up National Family Literacy Week last month, adult education providers collaborated again to host a rally in front of the Thompson Center, the first in the field’s history. The rally drew 150 adult education students, supporters, and allies and featured speeches from State Senator Daniel Biss and State Representative Theresa Mah.

Adult Education advocates have worked tirelessly over the last 500 days to advocate for a state budget, and our efforts led to the stopgap spending bill. By the end of the year, however, programs will be back at day 1.  With new Representatives settling into Springfield in January, there is hope that a budget is on the horizon. Advocates don’t know what the future holds, but we know that exercising our collective power can yield great results. CCLC will continue to be your trusted partner in advocacy at every level.  In the midst of unprecedented uncertainty we will continue to organize and lead the charge to ensure that more learners won’t fall through the cracks.  

Now more than ever, help us keep this work alive: Become a member, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and donate to make sure adult learners have access to the programs and services that will lead to their economic mobility.

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