* While Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago) and I were chatting the other evening he mentioned that he and Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Joliet) had been talking about a stopgap funding plan for colleges and universities. I asked him to write it up and here it is…
Higher education in Illinois is in crisis. The state has not appropriated basic operations money to the state universities this year. As a result one institution is preparing to close on May 1 and others cannot guarantee that they will be open when students return in the fall. May 1 is also the day when students traditionally must decide where they will attend in the fall. If students are uncertain about the future of our state universities, they may not plan to attend. Waiting longer to fund our universities may come too late to get those students back. There are three things we can do now to help this crisis.
First I propose that we utilize the Educational Assistance Fund (EAF) as a stopgap to fund the universities through August. The EAF will have about $600 million left in it at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. August is an important time since that is when students return and revenue from tuition, room and board comes to the universities. In SB 2046 (J. Cullerton/Currie), the total appropriation for ordinary and contingent expenses for the state universities and the Illinois Math and Science Academy is $1,079,180,600. This represents a full year appropriation, but there was no identified revenue to pay for it. An equivalent expenditure for four months from May 1 to August 31 would be one third of that, $359,726,867.
Second I propose that we provide one semester of MAP grant funding to help keep Illinois students of limited means at college in Illinois. SB 2046 also appropriates $397,073,100 to provide the MAP grants. Half of that to fund one semester would be $198,536,550. Combining the four-month university appropriation along with one semester of MAP grant funds comes to $558,263,417. This can be funded entirely from the EAF this fiscal year.
Finally I propose we give the universities relief from some of the procurement code. This has been a request from the universities long before the current administration and would be expected to save many millions. Modifying HB 4644 (Brady) to affect just the universities would provide this kind of relief and help the universities better manage their budgets while the state seeks a full long-term solution.
Of course the best outcome would be a full budget for all agencies. But anyone following the budget impasse in Illinois reads about the lack of trust among the leaders. A full budget is difficult at best in this environment. The General Assembly successfully took a more limited approach in December, appropriating money for cities to take care of snow removal and pay the lottery winners along with a long list of other activities. The General Assembly can take that approach again and move past this crisis in higher education.