Illinois leaders talk state budget woes, MAP grants while at SIU
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Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps told university students at a town hall meeting Tuesday night that funding resolutions for public higher education will likely not be decided until after Election Day.
“I hate to say it, but until this political game is done on Nov. 8, we are not going to see the changes we need to see,” Phelps told the crowd of about 20 people.
Phelps, D-Harrisburg, was one of two state legislators to attend a meeting organized by the Graduate and Professional Student Council with the aim of hearing about how state leaders plan to resolve issues relevant to SIU students. He was joined by Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Crest Hill, who serves as chairman of the state senate’s higher education committee.
Phelps said because he represents the southern Illinois area, it was especially difficult for him to not know if SIU would be able to remain open without a state budget.
“We had people who wanted their kid to go to SIU but didn’t want to take the chance, so they sent them to schools like Murray State and SEMO,” Phelps said. “The surrounding states have done well trying to get some of our hometown kids and I hate it because the main thing we lost was good students.”
McGuire said Illinois should reassess higher education because there have been demographic and technological changes since current college students graduated high school.
“Illinois needs work,” McGuire said. “We need to make changes to our higher education system but we’re not getting around to that because we’re spending all of our time trying to keep the doors open.”
McGuire and Phelps said their disagreements with some of the items Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lists on his so-called “turnaround agenda” have prevented them from performing their duties as legislators.
McGuire said he wants to be fair to Rauner, but his assessment of him is that money is the governor’s only concern. He said state Democrats created 20 bills for a variety of subjects including higher and K-12 education, corrections and transportation, and Rauner threw out all but one.
“The only one he signed was K-12 education and that’s why the public schools opened on time, so it appeared we were going to go through 2016 without a budget,” McGuire said. “SIU and other schools went deep into the fiscal year without a budget from the state.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield on Aug. 17, 2016. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Phelps said although he listens to the concerns of his district, there is not much he can change without Rauner’s approval.
“‘I’m not trying to bash Rauner or point fingers, but it is up to him what Illinois decides to fund and not fund,” Phelps said. “You can come to my office and talk to me but I have my record and I voted for all these issues, so the people who didn’t are the people you need to talk to.”
The two said one of the main issues for higher education is the lack of funding for the state’s monetary award program — better known as the MAP grant — which provides money for low-income college students in the state.
McGuire said the stopgap budget gives more money to public universities and community colleges for operating expenses, but none for MAP.
“If Illinois is ever going to regain its strength, we are going to have to fund our public universities and fund MAP for all sectors,” McGuire said.
McGuire said he was unaware of the severity of the impact not funding the MAP grant had on students.
“A half dozen veterans attending Louis University came to see me and two of them told me they were unsure if they could continue their education without the MAP grant funding,” McGuire said. “I had no idea there were veterans in our state whose college education was imperiled by the absence of the MAP grant.”
McGuire said traditionally underrepresented populations of young men and women need support when they get to college.
“This is true for veterans, students who attend low performing high schools and ex-offenders,” McGuire said. “We want to help every student succeed and obtain a degree.”
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