Parents, activists rally for more education funding

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About 500 parents, kids and teachers protested outside the Thompson
Center on Wednesday morning for more school funding, noting their fears
about the impact on students if officials are forced to impose drastic
budget cuts.

The Thompson Center event coincided with Lobby Day in Springfield,
where thousands rallied in favor of a state tax increase to prevent
budget cuts, including massive cuts to school districts across
Illinois.

About 500 parents, kids and teachers protested outside the Thompson Center on Wednesday morning for more school funding, noting their fears about the impact on students if officials are forced to impose drastic budget cuts.

The Thompson Center event coincided with Lobby Day in Springfield, where thousands rallied in favor of a state tax increase to prevent budget cuts, including massive cuts to school districts across Illinois.

In Chicago, the protesters’ main concerns include class sizes increasing to as many as 37, preschool cuts and the growing achievement gap between high and low-income areas.

“Our children are our future, and if we don’t educate them we will continue to have problems,” said Silvana Wolkowicz, a parent with one son at Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center.

Wendy Katten, a CPS parent and one of the women who organized the protest, noted that the state has under-funded schools for years.

“We’ve known for a long time that our funding system in Illinois hasn’t worked,” Katten said.

Alderman Scott Waguespack agrees that city leaders aren’t doing what they should be to improve education. “We spend hundreds of millions on big-ticket projects that look good but don’t provide for our kids,” Waguespack said.

Participants came from all over the city, but most were from higher- performing schools.

“It’s very telling that this crisis hits everyone,” said Amy Smolinsky, a CPS parent who also helped organize the protest.

On Tuesday, participants in the Latino Policy Forum’s Lobby Day traveled to Springfield to argue against Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed 17 percent budget cut for state preschool programs. State preschools suffered a 10 percent across-the-board cut this year.

“Our goal is to bring more Latino voices to Springfield to speak on behalf of the children,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum.

Latinos would be especially affected by the cuts. One in four Illinois children under age 5 is Latino, according to the Forum. Preschools are in especially short supply in Chicago’s predominantly Latino communities.

The lack of preschool may aggravate the existing achievement gap among Latino children, who are behind other children as 4-year-olds and have a 43 percent high school dropout rate.

Leaders from seven organizations met Monday for an advocacy training session. They learned how to effectively communicate their stories and opinions. Puente explained that one of the Latino Policy Forum’s main goals it to teach the Latino community how to speak for itself. The training session was one part of a larger effort to educate parents about the importance of early childhood education.

Parent Hector Llort has two kids who went to preschool and two who are in preschool now. “I’m trying to tell [officials] that a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” Llort said.