Illinois House approves new college grant program

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The Illinois House Monday approved a bill creating a new grant program for college students who maintain at least a “B” average in their studies, but that Republicans said the state cannot afford.

The House voted 65-50 to approve House Bill 1316. It must still be approved by the Senate.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said the bill is intended to encourage students to attend college in Illinois. During the state’s budget stalemate, enrollment at many state universities has dropped as students opt to attend college elsewhere. Once they leave the state, Lang said, the students tend not to return.

“Part of the reason for this bill is to keep our best and brightest here,” Lang said. “We have this brain drain where we’re losing our students. We have thousands of students leaving Illinois because they can’t afford to go to college here. For the sake of our students and the economy, we need to keep them here.”

The bill would provide full-time students at public universities or community colleges a yearly grant of up to $4,000. To qualify, students would need at least a “B” average and must come from families who earn less than $125,000 a year.

Students who receive the grants would have to remain in Illinois for two years after they complete their schooling.

The bill also requires the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to set up a program to buy out the private student loans of eligible participants.

The bill is subject to money appropriated to it by the General Assembly. Lang estimated the cost at $300 million to $400 million. It would not begin until the 2018-19 school year.

Republicans said the bill may be well-intentioned, but the state cannot afford it.

“I think I’m in the land of Oz. Everything is free,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley. “When you look at our fiscal condition, I doubt we’re ever going to fulfill the image we’re creating and the hope we’re creating for students. Students need all of the things you’re talking about in this bill, but I don’t see how we’re ever going to afford it.”

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said both ISAC and the state Board of Higher Education, which would have roles in administering the bill, are opposed to it.

“If you want to help higher education, then you get a balanced budget that funds higher education,” she said. “We have at least 26 grants programs in the state of Illinois to help students in higher education that we are not funding currently. We need to fund those programs and not bring in new ones.”

Other Republicans complained the bill has no enforcement mechanisms to recover money from students who fail to fulfill their obligations after obtaining grants.

Democrats, though, said the bill will provide another mechanism to help students with college costs.

“Universities are supposed to be accessible to everybody,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago.

— Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, http://twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

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May 29, 2017 at 11:39AM

Illinois House approves new college grant program

The Latest: House Democrats propose college grant program

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Latest on legislative action in Springfield (all times local):

11:30 a.m.


House Democrats have proposed a plan to subsidize higher education costs for college students who choose to stay in Illinois.

Democratic Reps. Lou Lang of Skokie and Will Guzzardi and Christian Mitchell of Chicago announced their plan Tuesday. It would provide full-time Illinois students attending a public university or community college with a yearly grant capped at $4,000.

Students who maintain a B average with families earning less than $125,000 annually would qualify.

Lang says the plan would support Illinois’ economy by incentivizing students to stay. He says over a quarter of the growing number of Illinois students attending out-of-state colleges never return.

Students would start receiving grants in 2018 at an estimated cost of $300 million.

The proposal would also create a faculty-retention fund and a debt relief program.

___

The bill is HB1316.

___

11:10 a.m.

Senate Democrats are proposing a backup state budget plan that doesn’t cut some vital areas as much as a proposal that narrowly won approval last week.

Sen. Heather Steans’ (STAYNZ’) plan would spend $37.3 billion. A measure spending 2 percent less was OK’d last week but with only Democratic votes.

It’s an attempt by the Senate to open the door to Illinois’ first annual budget in two years. First-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has sparred with Democrats who run the General Assembly over raising taxes to settle a deficit.

Steans’ budget plan projects the same level of spending Rauner himself proposed in February. The Democratic senator from Chicago says it still includes steep spending reductions but forgoes a previous $400 million cut to Medicaid.

Income and other taxes would be increased to bring in $5.5 billion.

___

4 a.m.

The Illinois Senate could take up some lingering issues related to the “grand bargain” budget compromise.

Senators were winding down to a possible vote Tuesday on changes to the workers’ compensation system. It’s one of the “structural” changes Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has demanded during the two-year budget stalemate.

Democrats have argued that significant cost-saving measures were enacted in 2011, but those savings have not been passed along to business owners in the form of lower premiums.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago made workers’ comp part of the attempted compromise he hatched with Republican Leader Christine Radogno (ruh-DOHN’-yoh) of Lemont (lih-MAHT’) last winter.

As it stands now, medical fees paid to doctors would be cut significantly under the bill. Medical fees were cut by 30 percent in 2011.


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May 23, 2017 at 05:31AM

The Latest: House Democrats propose college grant program

Sounding the Alarm: Thriving higher education system needed to create strong economy in Illinois

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One could argue the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse has been most visible at the state’s public universities and community colleges.

Students aren’t getting their MAP grants. Faculty, staff and administrators are being laid off. There is concern one or more of the state’s public universities might shut its doors. In just one day in April, the bond ratings of six universities were downgraded, as rating agency S&P determined the uncertainty of state funding for higher education made them a bad risk for investors.

Perhaps most embarrassing was this: In April, a national report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association on higher education finances in 2016 spotlighted Illinois as an outlier. That status was cemented due to per-student funding falling by 80 percent year over year, from $10,986 to $2,196, while enrollment at public institutions plunged by 46,000 students (or 11 percent).

Illinois was so bad that if you include it in the report, overall public support for higher education funding fell by 1.8 percent. Remove the Land of Lincoln, and overall support for higher education nationally increased by 3.2 percent.

Illinois needs outstanding higher education facilities that produce knockout research, breathtaking innovation and graduates eager to conquer the world. To do that, universities and colleges need focused strategic plans — and that is only going to happen when there is stability that comes from having a state budget.  

As in other sectors, pension reform (see Thursday’s editorial of our Sounding the Alarm series for more) is key to freeing up more resources for instruction. A study of Illinois by the State Higher Education Executive Officers found that in fiscal year 2015, retirement appropriations consumed 44.3 percent of the total funding for higher education in Illinois. In 2007, it had been just 10.3 percent.

That’s a depressing and sobering shift. In fiscal year 2000, about $218.2 million in state funding was dedicated to pensions, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and $2.13 billion went to operations funding. Fast forward to fiscal year 2015 (the last year there was a permanent state budget), and $1.55 billion went to pay off pension debt — nearly as much as the $1.95 billion the state spent on the actual teaching, research and support operations.

And who has borne the brunt of that shift? Students and their parents have forked over more to help bridge the difference. Average tuition and fees at public universities in Illinois were $4,786 in fiscal year 2002. They had more than tripled to $13,462 by fiscal year 2015, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The restructuring of the state’s pension debt will free up significant funds to actually be spent on instructional costs. So would making all new hires go into a self-managed plan retirement (already an option in the State University Retirement System), and allowing any current employees the option of switching to such a plan.

But stable funding is just a start for retooling our institutions of higher education. It’s time for a thorough examination of what they should be and a commitment to making our institutions centers of achievement that spur economic growth in Illinois.

Most of the four-year public universities in Illinois were established as regional education centers. They offered similar programs, with the thinking that students in those areas wouldn’t have to travel far for their education. That made sense 100 years ago when traveling was more difficult, but if the number of students who are heading out of state for college is any indication, they are willing to travel if it means access to excellent programs.

Universities are, and need to remain, the economic drivers of their home communities. Figures shared by the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education show that colleges and universities in Illinois employ 175,000 people statewide and generate more than $50 billion in economic activity. For every $1 the state spends on higher ed, it gets $25 back. It’s an outstanding value.

But each campus should have designated areas of specialization. In today’s specialized world, universities must adapt and put aside the notion that they can be all things to all people. Program offerings should be evaluated, and under-enrolled programs must be pruned, allowing institutions to focus on their strongest offerings.

Doing that might mean revamping the structure of the schools: Does each one need a board, or should we perhaps mirror our neighbor to the north? The University of Wisconsin system oversees 13 four-year universities and 13 freshman-sophomore UW Colleges campuses, which provides efficiencies in administration. Illinois needs to examine that. A 2015 report by the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus found that the number of full-time administrative staff at public universities ballooned by 31.1 percent from 2004 to 2010. But during the same time period, the number of full-time faculty increased by just 1.8 percent, and there was only a 2.3 percent increase in part- and full-time students.

The last two years of belt tightening in the absence of a budget and funding have likely changed those numbers, and we understand the definition of “administration” in Illinois needs to be refined as it can include positions that no one would consider administration.

We aren’t ready to recommend a UW System of management — but we believe it’s a question that needs to be answered, and the Illinois Board of Higher Education should start that conversation now as a means toward setting a solid plan for the system’s future.

But make no mistake — the governor and General Assembly need to resolve the budget crisis and make the investment in higher ed that Illinois needs to make it a competitive, healthy state. 

— Coming Sunday in the State Journal-Register Editorial Board’s Sounding the Alarm series: Changes to taxes and consolidating governments needed to get Illinois’ fiscal ship in order.

About this series

Illinois is the only state in America without a budget, a failure that digs it deeper into debt each day. But the lack of a budget is not the only serious problem that the state’s leaders must take action on. “Sounding the Alarm,” is an eight-day special report that the Register Star and The Journal-Standard are publishing in conjunction with their sister paper in Springfield, The State Journal-Register.

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May 19, 2017 at 09:39AM

Sounding the Alarm: Thriving higher education system needed to create strong economy in Illinois

Small And Mid-Size Public Universities Feeling Brunt Of Budget Stalemate

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Higher education has been among the areas feeling the state budget impasse as funding has been cut. It has forced some schools to reduce classes, lay off employees and, in some cases, close for several days. But a review of enrollment indicates small and mid-sized public universities are taking a double hit. “We found our large schools, our flagship schools, they are experiencing modest increases in enrollment over the past couple of years. And that’s on trend with some other states,” said Sarah Brune, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. She said the group conducted the study to see the effects of the impasse on the institutions. The small and mid-sized schools are seeing declines, meaning not only less state funds, but also fewer tuition dollars. Over both 2 year and 5 year time frames, some schools have seen big drops in the number of students who attend. “We wanted to look into that and use enrollment, which is only one of the many factors you can

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May 16, 2017 at 01:41AM

Small And Mid-Size Public Universities Feeling Brunt Of Budget Stalemate

NPR Illinois sets state budget forum Wednesday in Champaign

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URBANA — NPR Illinois will host a state budget forum featuring former Gov. Jim Edgar and University of Illinois President Tim Killeen at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign.

It is the second of 11 planned free events planned around the state open to the public to talk about how different regions have been affected by the state budget impasse.

The forums sponsored by AARP and NPR Illinois (WUIS in Springfield) are a chance to hear directly from Illinois residents about their experience without a state budget and panelists’ views on these effects, said the radio station. The first event took place last month in Springfield.

Moderated by Brian Moline, the local host of “Morning Edition” on WILL, panelists for the Champaign forum will be Edgar; Killeen; Christopher Mooney, director of the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs; and Rosanna Marquez, Illinois state president for AARP.

Edgar, a Republican who served as governor from 1991 to 1999, has been critical of current Gov. Bruce Rauner for failing to coming to an agreement with the Legislature on an operating budget for the state.

NPR Illinois has aggregated its coverage of the effects of the budget impasse under the “Past Due” banner at nprillinois.org.

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May 13, 2017 at 12:08AM

NPR Illinois sets state budget forum Wednesday in Champaign

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

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Our state is on a historic quest for a better economy, for a better tomorrow. Both political parties are adamant that Illinois must do more to create jobs, keep Illinoisans from fleeing the state and give our children hope that our best days are yet to come.

And yet every day, the longer the state’s budget impasse continues, the more one catalyst to that growth we all wish for pays a serious price: our college and university campuses around Illinois.

In his latest budget address, Gov. Bruce Rauner again proposed cuts to higher education. He called for a small increase in funds for the Monetary Award Program, but MAP grants haven’t been funded this year. The last two years of devastating funding cuts to MAP grants and operating funds for Illinois colleges and universities have been only an extreme example of 15 years of defunding, devaluing and dismantling this state’s once nationally ranked higher education system.

Higher education has its perception problems: charges of inefficiency, duplicative programs and administrative bloat. But try telling the leaders of many communities around the state that those concerns are worth the costs of draconian funding cuts.

In Bloomington, the local impact is enormous from three local colleges and universities: $725 million, with more than 4,500 jobs. Just south in Decatur, nearly $200 million is generated from Millikin University and Richland Community College. From Rockford to Carbondale, Quincy to Champaign, and Springfield to the Metro East, colleges and universities drive local economies and prepare our next generation of leaders and workforce. Yet the longer this budget impasse runs, the more paralyzed our system becomes – and the more the costs of this crisis grow.

It’s too easy to ignore higher education’s value and benefits, because we take them for granted. As the state has cut more than $1 billion from 2000-15 – 36.4 percent – in higher education funding and aid for students, we fail to appreciate how much a role colleges and universities play to provide higher average salaries, better health, longer employment, more tax support for local services, and much more.

As the House, Senate and governor debate approving a full-year budget or more short-term help through stopgap/lifeline solutions, higher education withers away. It’s not that our policymakers can’t recognize the need for urgent action when economic crisis rears its head.

When Exelon, Sears and CME needed help, or when other businesses asked for incentives to stay and expand here, those calls were heard and addressed. Why not higher education? After all, it’s a mammoth employer: $50 billion in economic impact annually, with 800,000 students and 175,000 employees in more than 200 locations.

As the discussion at the Capitol centers on Illinois’ economic recovery and building a stronger workforce and tax base, slashing higher ed is hypocritical, counterproductive and digging our hole deeper. Students are choosing out-of-state schools or skipping college altogether.

Others are deciding not to come back after going away for school. Talented faculty and staff are laid off and leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. And with each blow, the recovery takes much longer than the initial damage.

Until the trend in funding for higher education is reversed, the promise of a better Illinois is an illusion. A state without a plan is a state with a very dim future.

David W. Tretter,  is president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, and a leader of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education

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May 12, 2017 at 05:25AM

My View: Illinois must invest in higher education to grow its economy

It falls to Gov. Rauner, above all, to get budget deal done

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Pass a budget and move on.

If we have learned anything in the two years since the State of Illinois last had a budget, balanced or otherwise, it is that nothing matters more. A state without a budget is a state that falls apart, and the damage is lasting. Holding the budget hostage to other agendas, whatever their merit, puts the state’s priorities backward. It is irresponsible.

EDITORIAL

Gov. Bruce Rauner, we would hope, finally understands this. His first and only job in these last two weeks of the Legislature’s spring session is to make sure a full and balanced budget is passed. Everything else on his once-hefty pro-business reform agenda, including an overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation system, pales in importance.

If no budget is passed and signed, Gov. Rauner will have to own the failure. He will have to explain to the voters, as he runs for re-election in 2018, why he felt it was more important to hold out for certain non-budgetary reforms even as our state’s backlog of bills reached $13 billion and public universities suffered mightily and social service providers went unpaid.

A governor must govern. He is the state’s chief executive officer. It falls to him, before all others, to do that most basic job of a CEO — get a budget done.

In making this point, we’re not dismissing the worthiness of parts of Rauner’s non-budget agenda, most of which he has taken off the table for now. We’re all for reforming how legislative districts are drawn, see the attraction of term limits for legislative leaders and support some changes in workers’ compensation law. But a governor has other forms of leverage at his disposal, beyond budget negotiations, to achieve such ends.

We also understand that Rauner walked into a bad situation, and his only aim has been to do his darnedest to set our state right. Long before Rauner arrived in Springfield, Illinois was struggling with a weak economy, alarmingly underfunded pensions, a backlog of bills and a political dynamic that for too long has put one Chicago pol, House Speaker Mike Madigan, at the center of every major decision.

We’re just saying that passing a budget matters a whole lot more. If that was not obvious to Rauner in 2015, or even a year ago, it should be now.

Whatever pro-business gains Illinois might have made by reforming workers’ comp law, for example, have been overwhelmed by the damage done to our state’s public universities by the lack of a state budget since 2014.

Every state university has been forced to make significant cuts to staff and programs. Worse yet, they never know if and when further state funding will come. They have laid off hundreds of employees, cut dozens of academic programs, and cut pay by imposing furloughs. University presidents say that many more talented high school graduates are choosing to go out of state for college — and may never return. Universities struggle to recruit and retain top professors.

From the outset, Rauner chose to use the budget process as leverage to enact his reform agenda, not understanding that he needed a state budget as much or more than Madigan did. He compounded his miscalculation by vilifying the Speaker. It’s tough to cut a deal with a guy once you’ve implied he’s corrupt.

The continued bad blood — or miserable miscommunication — continues. In late April, immediately after meeting in private for the first time in more than four months, Rauner and Madigan released jarringly conflicting statements. The governor, Madigan said, might be ready to “do one thing — pass a budget.” The Speaker, Rauner said, might be ready to pass a budget that includes “changes that fix our broken system.”

And so the game goes on.

Springfield is a swirl of budget negotiations now, especially in the Senate, where the willingness to compromise has always been most sincere. But it is impossible know what is real and what is theater, and the details of today’s negotiations may not matter tomorrow.

What matters is that Illinois pass a budget. All else is noise.

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May 9, 2017 at 01:01PM

It falls to Gov. Rauner, above all, to get budget deal done