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Prioritizing budget choices

What constitutes an essential state program? It’s a question Illinois is grappling with as it looks to cut spending. Of course, everyone thinks their program is worthy of continued funding, but sometimes it’s easy to see where cuts can be made.

Consider these two programs that help young adults that are on the chopping block.

• Illinois would eliminate extended foster care to about 2,400 people who are age 18 to 21 (up to 23, if they’re in college).

• Illinois would eliminate tuition breaks for the children of state university employees. Last year 2,156 students got half-price tuition.

If the state keeps just one of these programs, it clearly should be the extended foster care program. If this program isn’t essential, it’s certainly highly desirable. Anyone who’s a parent knows that very few 18-year-olds are ready to be on their own. Experts say the potential costs that could result if these young people don’t get help establishing themselves at college or in a job would be far greater than continuing the program.

Maybe a compromise is keeping them under state care until they turn 20.

By comparison, cheap tuition is a wonderful perk for the children of university employees, but not essential. Those young adults likely will still go to college; it just would cost them or their parents more out of their own pockets. Some proponents of the tuition program say Illinois could lose valued employees as a result. If that happens, those are highly desirable jobs that won’t be hard to fill.

Assuming Illinois hasn’t constitutionally guaranteed this tuition benefit as it has pensions, it should be eliminated immediately.