Illinois House Moves Timely Higher Ed Funding Bill Forward

(Photo: Daniel Schwen, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Daniel Schwen, Creative Commons)

A $600 million bill aimed at keeping Illinois’ universities and community colleges in operation until the new academic year received swift bipartisan support in the House, passing on a 106-2 vote on Friday morning. Now it heads back to the Illinois Senate.

But when Illinois House members were preparing for a vote on Thursday, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), announced she would not be asking for a final vote on that day, according to Doug Finke of The State Journal-Register.

Amid the confusion, Democrats said that House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) made the decision for postponing a call for the vote.

Some legislators assumed there might have been an attempt on Friday to find funding for some human services before taking the vote on the higher education funding measure. A few Democrats in the House said they were unhappy that money had not been found to assist human services. Some state social services programs have closed their doors and others have had to minimize staff and shorten hours of operation because of months of state budget deadlock.

Without this influx of money to Illinois universities and colleges, Chicago State University would be set to close.

Sara Mueller of WUIS Public Radio quoted Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), who said:

“But the fact is, this is not going to solve a long-term problem, it’s only going to make it worse. What we ought to be saying is ‘Governor, the bills are on your desk right now to fix. Quit putting a gun to Chicago State’s head.’”

Franks said to the Chicago Tribune’s Monique Garcia and Celeste Bott that now the state may have an opportunity to move forward with a budget that will not have the governor’s Turnaround Agenda, his political wishlist, tied to it. He called the vote a “major breakthrough.”

The legislation would have universities split $365 million and give community colleges $74 million. This deal is still a 70% cut for schools as compared to the Democratic budget that was pushed through the legislature in May. That budget was vetoed by Rauner since it was almost $4 billion “out of balance.”

The exception is Chicago State University, which would receive $20 million, which is only 60% of what it was promised under the Democratic budget. The school’s student body is principally minority, and the university took some of the hardest hits from the state funding deficit.

The bill also sets aside $170 million for scholarships to low-income pupils, especially those with a propensity toward dropping out of school. This number is approximately 43% of what Democrats had been seeking.

The money to cover the measure will come from a specialized education fund created through income tax revenue. Those who support the bill say the fund should have an excess after the recent tax season.

Even though Democrats in the Senate historically tend to be more liberal and apt to demand more money during negotiations on a budget, for this measure, the lawmakers came together.

“At this point, we need to take one problem at a time. Right now, higher education is the immediate problem,” said Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago). “Everyone knows I’m always advocating for social service programs, and we need to provide some funding for them as well. But Chicago State is going to close their doors in a few days if we don’t act.”