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Out of district scholarship recipients could be a very big problem

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011

* The Chicago media has been in an uproar this week about how former legislator Bob Molaro gave legislative scholarships to children of a supporter who lived outside his district. But the nonprofit news site found last year that this was a widespread problem

Sixty-two members of the Illinois General Assembly broke the law over the course of six years by awarding free tuition to the state’s public universities to 122 college students who didn’t live in the right legislative district.

The state lawmakers – several of whom serve in leadership positions – violated the law they had passed in the 1970s, the last time major changes were made to the century-old legislative scholarship program. Controversy over the program flared again this past year after a series of articles by ChicagoTalks that found repeated instances of scholarships being awarded to campaign donors, politically connected families and, in at least one instance, a lawmaker’s relative. ChicagoTalks also identified five legislators who require scholarship applicants to register to vote, a practice one constitutional lawyer called illegal. […]

ChicagoTalks contacted the offices of all 62 lawmakers. Those legislators or staff who responded to interview requests confirmed they made mistakes and offered explanations like an aide for Rep. Karen May (D -Highland Park) did, saying the student received the scholarship because his application had been delivered by a guidance counselor from a school that was located in the district.

The student moved to a different district, but because he had started the school year at Highland Park he was able to finish the school year there. Since his application came from a school in the district, they assumed he lived in the district as well.

An aide to Sen. Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) said she assumed the senator had all of Rochester in his district, but now realizes that a portion is in another senatorial district.

“I look all of them up, and these two fell through the cracks,” said Lori Bottrell.

Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) said the five students who received scholarships outside of her district were overlooked because they lived on the borders. […]

Most of the students willing to talk were unaware they applied and received a scholarship out of district. But, one recipient, Jasmine Lindsay, said Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) gave her the scholarship even though she knew Lindsay didn’t live in district. Lindsay said the representative told her father that students in her district were not taking advantage of the program.

“Annazette wasn’t getting reached out to so she reached out to me,” said Lindsay.

* Hat tip to the Chicago Tribune editorial page, which had this to say today

We hope the U.S. attorney saw that story.

The law, on the books since 1905, allows each of the state’s 177 lawmakers to award the equivalent of two four-year scholarships to a state university. It’s supposed to help students who might not otherwise be able to attend college. But too many lawmakers have come to regard the scholarships as a personal entitlement, something they can use to reward supporters or please their pals. Who pays for it? Other students. The Legislature doesn’t fund the scholarships, so the universities pass along the costs in the form of higher tuition.

* As you probably already know, Gov. Pat Quinn used his amendatory veto power on a legislative scholarship bill to eliminate the program

Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday ratcheted up pressure to abolish the state’s oft-abused legislative scholarship program, asking lawmakers to end the century-old perks this fall and to voluntarily stop handing them out now.

For the second year in a row, Quinn used his veto powers on a bill seeking to tighten the tuition waiver program at public universities. Last year, he vetoed the entire bill. This time, he rewrote the measure to ban the scholarships.

What’s also different this year is that the governor acted only days after the disclosure that federal authorities have subpoenaed the legislative scholarship records of former state Rep. Robert Molaro, D-Chicago, who retired in 2008.

* Mark Brown has some history in his column today

Investigative reporters have been pointing out the abuses since at least the early 1970s, always followed by a movement to eliminate the program. Each and every time nothing has happened.

“I doubt if you’ll ever get rid of it. It’s just considered another plum that you’re entitled to because of your office, and members don’t want to give that up.”

That’s what a prescient Chicago Democratic legislator told my former Sun-Times reporting partner Chuck Neubauer back in 1974. Neubauer, then at the Tribune, had been part of an investigation revealing numerous abuses, including one state senator giving a scholarship to his own wife, another awarding hers to the daughter of a Chicago alderman and a state rep who picked her own daughter.

But Neubauer would be the first to tell you he didn’t invent the genre. Somebody else had done similar stories before him.

* Gov. Quinn said this week that instead of legislative scholarships the state should strengthen the Monetary Award Program. But the state program has its problems as well…

Potentially hundreds of failing Chicago State University students received state financial aid even though their grades were so low that they shouldn’t have been allowed to take classes, according to testimony Wednesday at a state hearing.

The money could have gone to other low-income students in Illinois, Sen. Edward Maloney, D-Chicago, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said at a meeting to review a troubling financial audit and other campus issues. […]

Maloney, who requested state financial aid information after the Tribune report, said that during the 2008-09 academic year, 449 Chicago State students received state grant money even though, under university policy, an untold number of them should have been dismissed for poor academic performance.

Of those students, 106 had a grade-point average of 0.0 and still received aid from the taxpayer-funded Monetary Award Program, known as MAP.

The state’s largest grant program for low-income students is persistently underfunded, and 151,000 qualified students were shut out of aid last year. The maximum MAP award is $4,968 a year. [Emphasis added.]


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - shore - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 10:23 am:

    terminate them. moving on.

  2. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 10:42 am:

    The legislative scholarship program and Chicago State’s problems are further proof that doing things the same way and expecting different results isn’t ever going to work well. Chicago State has been a mess for decades but nobody wanted to talk about it. The legislative scholarship program is a relic of a 1950s view of higher education.

    I hope the new found interest in higher education policy forces a rethink that results in re-aligning our policy with the needs of a diverse state in a 21st century economy. But then, I’m getting used to being disappointed in Illinois.

  3. - One of the 35 - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 10:53 am:

    106 had a GPA of 0.0! The same as Bluto Blutarski!

  4. - Sam I am - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 10:57 am:

    Would the US Attorney really be interested in violations of state law?

  5. - Bluefish - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:02 am:

    That’s future Senator Blutarski to you!

  6. - Back Jack - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:02 am:

    @Sam I am: if it involves mail fraud, sure the US Attorney will take a look.

  7. - Illini Lurker - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:13 am:

    It’s a shame that so many legislators misuse this program. I won the scholarship completely legitimately a few years back (she was a Republican, our family is Democrat, no connections to the good representative, etc). It was a tremendous help to attending Champaign even back then. It saved both me and my parents a lot of money.

  8. - Because I say so - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:26 am:

    I know of well deserving kids that have gotten the legislative tuition waiver and some who got it thru political favors. The program is a mess and it needs to go.

    I am so pleased that the state…great job Sen. Maloney, is finally pulling the cover off CSU. Those MAP dollars should be administered on a performance base method to those most deserving. Hopefully the state is moving in that direction.

  9. - shore - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:32 am:

    How many other states do this?

  10. - Excessively Rabid - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:35 am:

    The idea that the GA should have anything at all to do with who gets into state universities or receives a scholarship is disgusting.

  11. - TwoFeetThick - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:42 am:

    While it’s probably time for legislators to let the scholarship program die out, Quinn’s AV is likely dead in the water for the same reason that many of Blago’s AV’s went nowhere: House and Senate Rules.
    Senate Rule 9-2(a) states:

    “The Governor’s specific recommendations for change with respect to a bill returned… shall be limited to addressing the Governor’s objections to portions of a bill, the general merit of which the Governor recognizes, and shall not alter the fundamental purpose or legislative scheme set forth in the bill as passed.”

    There is a similar (if not identical) provision in House Rules. Since the GA passed him a bill that made changes to the program, not eliminated the program, it would seem that for the Governor to make changes to the bill that totally eliminates a program that the GA only wanted to change, alters the fundamental purpose of the bill, which is not allowed.

    This is what the House and Senate will cite when they don’t take up Quinn’s recommendations, at least with respect to this particular bill (they can always run another bill that does the same thing, if they wish).

  12. - Aldyth - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:48 am:

    It’s time for the legislators to stop thinking that they are Santa Claus, because it sure isn’t Christmas for the taxpayers. End the legislator scholarships.

  13. - Fed up - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 11:56 am:

    Chicago state (Emil Jones U) has been a mess forever. The stories of taxpayer funds used to buy liqour and cruises. The schools certifications being yanked. All that every mattered to the gov and the area reps were the reliable Dem votes the area produced. Even if the school is a complete failure.

  14. - Mark - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    More examples of corruption in Illinois politics.

    Does anyone know the annual value of tuition waivers granted to employees and their children at Illinois public universities?

    All this adds to the cost of education in Illinois public universities which are expensive.

    If your children are going to college, be sure to consider out of state options, especially in states that are not heavily unionized, those colleges sometimes cost less.

  15. - D.P. Gumby - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 12:18 pm:

    These same legislators want to eliminate the tuition discount given to University employees who haven’t had even cost of living increases in years until this year.

  16. - Joe - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 12:26 pm:

    If what happened at CSU happened at the UI the pressure for heads to roll would be intense. UI got raked over the coals for cloating students with a 3.4 GPA into certain colleges that required a 3.7. Students getting MAP with a 0.0 GPA is criminal but nothing will happen

  17. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 12:35 pm:

    At a joint event last weekend, Sen. Dillard described to Quinn exactly how to use the AV on the bill Sen. Dillard had sponsored and was sitting on Quinn’s desk, which paragraphs to AV and what language to use to eliminate these scholarships that have been abused by many members of the GA.

    Good riddance to this outrageous use of taxpayer monies.

  18. - anon - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 1:13 pm:

    The employee discount waiver amount is placed by IBHE at $8.2 million on a statewide tuition revenue base of $1.5 billion; however, it should be noted these families are paying the remaining 50% of their tuition and 100% of their fees, room and board. The emplooyee discount amounts to about 15% of their total bill for tuition,room and board.

    Competitors to our public universities for faculty and student talent are the private colleges and out-of-state universities, both having more generous employee tuition incentives, than public universities in Illinois.

    It should be also be noted that private colleges and universities in Illinois help underwrite their much more generous employee tuition incentives with hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal taxpayer funds (MAP and PELL programs).

  19. - Tom Joad - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 2:48 pm:

    Just how much money does each scholarship “cost” a state university? Most of the classes for freshmen have over one hundred students in them, so a few more students do not require additional professors. At most a student proctor or future teacher is there as part of his/her teaching requirement. I was in classes of over 150 as a junior at a state university.
    I would bet that 99% of classes do not require an additional class be taught because of the number of legislative scholarship recipients attending a class. So, there is no “cost” to the university.
    This is much ado about nothing.

  20. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 2:56 pm:

    Tom Joad said,

    “Most of the classes for freshmen have over one hundred students in them, so a few more students do not require additional professors. ”

    So I guess we should have a graduated tuition structure?

  21. - anon - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 3:20 pm:

    the undergrad legislative waivers have long been absorbed by universities ecause there have never been state funds provided, so it is sort of a a cost of doing business, but on the professional school side of things it really does hurt the schools when free rides are given for law dental or medical school because these are seats that should be paid in full becasue of the earnings potential of these students.

  22. - dupage dan - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 3:45 pm:

    Huey “The Kingfish” Long would be so proud of how his state, Louisiana, is doing. Oh, no, wait. Uh, that is……oops.

  23. - AnonyRonny - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 5:51 pm:

    Trib now admitting/reporting students get 60 credit hours to reach 2.0 and those taking developmental ( i.e. non-credit) can be MAP recipients.
    Gotta love how they send us the news

  24. - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 7:13 pm:

    When taxpayers are paying their own way or for their kids, I don’t think they should have to pay for someone else’s free ride. I would eliminate the program altogether. The students and their families can save, work, borrow, etc. to get through school.

  25. - Tom Joad - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 7:26 pm:

    There is no cost Anonymous, so taxpayers aren’t paying for someone elses kids.

  26. - Anonymous - Thursday, Aug 11, 11 @ 9:23 pm:

    The cost is the lost tuition.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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