Rauner approves emergency funding for Illinois higher education

Billy Kobin, Reporter

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bipartisan state Senate bill into law Monday that will allocate $600 million in short-term funding to public state universities, colleges and Monetary Award Program grant recipients.

The bill passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate on Friday. The new law is expected to keep public higher education institutions in the state afloat through the summer. Because Illinois has gone 10 months without a budget, state public universities and colleges have struggled to function as usual with reduced funds.

Chicago State University — a public university on Chicago’s South Side serving largely low-income, minority and non-traditional students — will receive about $20.1 million from the bill. CSU, which was scheduled to close at the end of April, has had to lay off employees, cancel its spring break and move up its commencement ceremonies due to the budget impasse.

The amount provided is insufficient in solving the broader crisis the budget impasse has created,” CSU officials said in a statement.

Altogether, the measure allocates $169 million to MAP grants, $356 million to public universities and $74 million to community colleges. The money comes out of the state’s Education Assistance Fund.

“This legislation doesn’t solve our budget crisis or help our economy grow, but it does represent a first step toward compromise between Democrats and Republicans,” Rauner said in a statement. “Now is the time to build on this bipartisan momentum and focus on enacting a truly balanced budget for Fiscal Years 2016-2017 alongside meaningful reforms that create jobs and free up resources for education, social services and infrastructure.”

The MAP program offers tuition grants for low-and middle-income Illinois students that attend public or private two-and four-year colleges, universities, hospital schools and other degree-granting institutions within the state. Northwestern has been covering about $2.4 million in MAP grants for about 500 students during the budget impasse.

“We’re pleased that the bill restores partial funding for current year MAP grants,” University spokesman Al Cubbage told The Daily. “We hope that the governor and legislature will reach an agreement that will restore full funding for MAP grants in the coming fiscal year.”

Oakton Community College, which has locations in Des Plaines and Skokie, will receive about $1.3 million from the measure, Paul Palian, director of college relations for Oakton, told The Daily. Palian said Oakton has been fortunate in that it has not had to lay off staff during the budget crisis and has been able to cover MAP grants for students.

Additional funding for social services in the state was cut from the bill before its passage Friday morning.

Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) told The Daily she was pleased that state lawmakers worked together to pass the bill. She said she has spoken with affected students, faculty and administrators during the past few months regarding the budget crisis.

“This legislation is a stop-gap measure,” Gabel told The Daily. “I don’t think it’s the final budget, so there is still more work to be done.”

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