Members of the Illinois Board of Higher Education narrowly voted Tuesday to send a $3.47 billion spending plan to the state legislature, a decision that followed weeks of debate questioning how the state’s public institutions can best move forward from two years of severe budget strain.
The endorsed budget was the more conservative of two options floated by trustees and was mostly unchanged from the plan originally presented in December. It seeks a $254.4 million increase over the current fiscal year, including a $100 million boost for Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students, around $31 million to cover inflation, $31 million for veterans grants and $20 million for emergency capital projects.
The contention centered upon the proposed share for Illinois’ 12 public universities, which collectively received about 41 percent of their typical state funding during the two-year budget impasse.
The board initially proposed a 2.2 percent increase, which if approved would send a little more than $1.1 billion to the public universities. University presidents, in an unusually public protest, signed a letter urging the board to present a more aggressive number. The school leaders wanted the budget to propose $1.2 billion, the same amount universities received in 2015, the last year of regular funding before the impasse struck.
But presidents of the state’s public universities had petitioned the board for another $100 million to restore their funding to 2014-15 levels, before the two-year state budget impasse. While recognizing the state’s financial plight, the presidents’ Dec. 11 letter said the recommendations would place more burdens on their schools after a funding cut this year and “two years of financial calamity” before that.
“The two-year budget impasse cost public universities tens of millions of operational dollars, and the lack of capital funding forced institutions to cancel or dramatically cut back on necessary construction and maintenance projects,” they wrote, adding that they have also cut expenses while controlling tuition and fees to respond to criticism about rising college costs. “The divestment in Illinois public higher education must stop now.”
Executive Director Al Bowman said the board understands the universities’ position, and their request is “certainly legitimate,” but the board believes that the recommendation “should reflect the state’s current financial situation. If we’re asking for an extra $254 million, we found it difficult to request an even larger amount, even though the universities need the money.” […]
UI spokesman Tom Hardy said Tuesday it was disappointing that the IBHE “did not concur with the public universities’ recommendation for a reasonable higher education appropriation to return us to the level of funding that preceded the devastating, two-year budget impasse. In the coming legislative session, we will continue to advocate for adequate, reliable funding of public higher education — a critical asset for the welfare and prosperity of Illinois and its people.”