SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers facing a record budget deficit have proposed cutting programs that allow some university students to pay lower tuition than their peers, including a 50 percent discount for children of state university employees.
The labor union representing those employees says lawmakers should look for new sources of revenue rather than cut a program that decreases tuition costs.
“The goal should be making higher education easier, not harder, for young people to attain. Lawmakers should raise adequate revenue to fund state universities, not cut programs that help working families afford rising college costs,” AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall said in a statement.
Rep. Dave Winters introduced the bill to eliminate the discount at the beginning of January, but lawmakers haven’t yet addressed the bill.
The tuition stipends amounted to $7 million in lost revenue for universities in the 2008-2009 school year. Universities don’t get any reimbursement from the state for the employees’ children.
“I’ve had constituents call and ask why we favor some groups and not others,” Winters said. “This is one of the ways we want to save money and have everybody have the same state rights and services, not write special little laws for certain groups.”
The bill is “a starting point for discussion” Winters said, and he’s willing to consider other compromises. Any students already in school using the stipend will continue to receive it, he added.
Rep. Jack Franks filed a bill to eliminate another program that affects college hopefuls. The long-debated General Assembly scholarships took another $13 million in potential revenue from state universities in the 2008-2009 school year.
Under the program, lawmakers can give out the scholarships to students in any way they choose. Critics charge that a lack of oversight allows lawmakers to provide free rides as political favors.
“It’s unfair to our university systems to continually put more financial burden on them,” Franks said. “And we’ve all certainly heard of abuse when individuals receiving these scholarships are connected financially to legislators.”
Franks said he did participate in the scholarship program but had no direct role in selecting winning students. Instead, he asks each high school in his district to select a candidate.
“That’s how I do it because I think it’s the proper way, but the more I think about it the more I think we’re better off as a state without (the program),” Franks said.
Even in an election year, trimming programs from the state’s budget and statutes could become a trend this spring as Illinois legislators are again confronted by the historic budget deficit and hear pleas from service providers struggling to stay afloat.
“We can’t be everything to everyone,” Franks said.