“Stop gap” funding will keep lights on at CSU but for how long?

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)
Barbara Flynn Currie
State Representative (d-25)

I was the lead sponsor of the measure that will keep state universities and community colleges open, for at least a little while. It will also fund almost a semester’s worth of tuition costs for low-income college students. The measure passed, handily, in each chamber of the General Assembly. The Governor has signed the bill.

The bill will keep the lights on. But it’s unclear how long they’ll stay lit. Chicago State University is the poster child. While all the state’s public institutions of higher education have skirted the financial cliff, Chicago State has been on the absolute brink. Its precarious position put major pressure on the Governor and on the legislature to stave off disaster.

We may have staved off disaster, but we haven’t done the job. The funding in my bill provided Chicago State about fifty percent of the money the state sent its way last fiscal year. For the other public universities, the total amounted to a little more than twenty percent of last year’s funding. Fifty percent? Twenty percent? How long will the lights stay on?

Many are hopeful Chicago State can make it, with cuts, through the end of the calendar year. It’s unlikely the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University will shut their doors, as they have access to healthier financial reserves. But Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern and Western? Governor’s State? They don’t have major fiscal cushions.

Higher education isn’t the only responsibility state government has given the back of its collective hand. While some human services—medical services for the poor, help for children abused and neglected—have been funded through federal court consent decrees, many have been left on the cutting room floor. Autistic or epileptic children? Disabled adults? Youngsters in need of after-school programs? Victims of sexual assault?
These have not yet been funded, never mind that the state’s fiscal year ends in little more than two months. Lutheran Social Services has laid off nearly a thousand workers, and Catholic Charities can’t be far behind. Smaller agencies, if they haven’t already closed their doors, very soon will.

There’s a bill on the Governor’s desk, another bill I sponsored, that would fund public higher education at realistic levels and provide funding for human services. The Governor has vowed to veto it. Isn’t it time for him to change his mind?