Metro-East News

State legislators try to push higher education funding forward

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is one of the state colleges that would benefit if the lawmakers’ funding plan becomes law.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is one of the state colleges that would benefit if the lawmakers’ funding plan becomes law. BND file photo

As Gov. Bruce Rauner spoke about putting more money into classrooms in his State of the State address Wednesday, there are efforts within the General Assembly to reinstate higher education funding.

The efforts come as the state operates in its seventh month without a budget.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, is co-sponsoring legislation that would appropriate $1.68 billion for higher education, and state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, has said he wants college grants for financially needy students funded alongside K-12 education.

Democratic legislators have proposed restoring $721.5 million of higher education funding, which was vetoed in June.

State Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, filed an amendment that if passed would fund $397 million worth of Monetary Award Program grants, college scholarships for financially-strapped students. Burke is the chairwoman of the House Higher Education Committee.

The legislation also appropriates $274.6 million to the Illinois Community College Board to distribute operating and equalization grants to qualifying public community colleges and City Colleges of Chicago for educational expenses.

Burke’s amendment also proposes setting aside $17.6 million for career and technical education activities through the state community college board.

About $32.3 million would also be set aside for adult education and literacy activities.

Funding for Illinois Community College Board grants, career and technical education, and adult education and literacy programs was part of a larger education appropriation bill vetoed by Rauner.

“We’ve been trying to get seek some feedback, and none has come,” Burke said.

The amounts represent required matching state money for federal higher education funds, Burke said.

The amounts are similar to what was proposed in Rauner’s budget address from February, Burke said.

“We’re trying to get some movement and some relief for these universities in a way close to what the governor proposed,” Burke said in a phone interview.

“Our higher education system is dependent on it,” Burke added.

Haine wrote to governor Rauner earlier this month asking that general state aid and mandated categorical payments for school districts be prioritized and not be delayed.

“Balancing the budget on the backs of students is not an option,” Haine wrote. “Education, and the funding it receives, is paramount obligation of the state.”

However, Haine received a response from the governor’s office, which he said he didn’t fully agree with.

Such a move would exacerbate our state’s current cash flow challenges. To protect (general state aid) payments and keep them prioritized, the comptroller will be forced to delay payments elsewhere across the government, putting social services at risk.

Richard A. Goldberg, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs

“Senator, the governor strongly agrees with you and has made clear that GSA funding is his highest priority,” wrote Richard A. Goldberg, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs in a letter obtained by the BND.

“As you may know, there are some members of the General Assembly working with outside interest groups to force additional spending without any way to pay for it,” Goldberg continued.

Goldberg wrote that higher education and MAP funding could add more than a billion dollars in spending obligations to the state without reducing spending elsewhere in government or passing cost-saving reforms.

“Such a move would exacerbate our state’s current cash flow challenges,” Goldberg wrote. “To protect GSA payments and keep them prioritized, the comptroller will be forced to delay payments elsewhere across the government, putting social services at risk.”

Haine said he was disappointed with the response from Rauner’s office, which had no endorsement for funding MAP grants.

“It seems to indicate he’s flatly opposed to doing something positive for MAP funding,” Haine said. “It seems to (imply) the college students will be sacrificed to fund general state aid for K through 12.”

Haine added the state in the past has been able fund both kindergarten through high school education, as well as higher education.

It seems to indicate he’s flatly opposed to doing something positive for MAP funding. It seems to (imply) the college students will be sacrificed to fund general state aid for K through 12.

State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton

The Kay-sponsored legislation would fund public universities, community colleges and MAP grants.

“This plan is a compromise in light of the current budget impasse and will provide much needed funding to keep Illinois’ public universities and community colleges open,” Kay said.

The proposal backed by Kay would appropriate $1.68 billion for higher education. Public universities would be funded at 80 percent of their fiscal 2015 funding levels, community colleges at 90 percent of their fiscal 2015 funding levels, and MAP grants will be funded at 100 percent of their fiscal 2015 funding levels.

The appropriations would be effective if the proposed Unbalanced Budget Response Act is approved.

This legislation would provide the governor with additional power to bring expenditures in line with revenue in circumstances when the state is spending beyond its estimated revenue for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

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