A glimmer of hope for CSU

State. Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13)
State. Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13)

Kwame Raoul
State Senator (D-13)

Some good news came out of Springfield last week as the governor signed legislation that finally releases some state money for college students and public universities. It allows Chicago State University, which had been expected to run out of money and close its doors on April 30, to stay open for the time being. That’s important because Chicago State is a critical Southside institution that serves predominantly African-American and nontraditional students who are courageously pursuing degrees while working and raising families. These are students who are rooted in their neighborhoods and jobs and can’t easily transfer elsewhere, and the loss of Chicago State would have been devastating for their future prospects.

The same legislation also sent some resources to other public universities and community colleges. And it paid for roughly the first semester (fall 2015) of MAP grants for low-income students – a cost colleges and universities had to cover themselves without state assistance.
That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news: it’s not enough. The compromise is progress, but it only covers 60 percent of Chicago State’s funding from state sources, 30 percent of what should be going to the other universities and community colleges and 43 percent of MAP grants. It doesn’t bring back the students who had to quit attending class in January when their institutions could no longer float the MAP grants the state wasn’t paying. It’s not preventing schools such as Western Illinois University from going ahead with layoffs. And it’s not reassuring high school seniors who are making college decisions right now that Illinois is a good place to get a degree. The governor’s hostage-taking strategy has done long-term damage that will require a significant investment of time and resources to repair.

It also does nothing for the social service providers – addiction treatment centers, caretakers for children with disabilities, homeless shelters and more – who haven’t been paid for their work taking care of the state’s most vulnerable residents. Many have already closed their doors or cut back staff and hours. The piece of paper the governor signed last week does not free those hostages either.

That’s why the Senate, after passing the partial higher education budget the House had sent us, passed another piece of legislation that would release money for colleges and universities but also for human services. The money appropriated isn’t theoretical or contingent on anything; it’s real money, already set aside by law from income tax revenues, just sitting in a bank account waiting to be used for the public good.

I’m hopeful that we can work with the House to send this or a similar measure to the governor. If he’s serious about compromise, he’ll sign it. Then we can build on that progress to work toward a sustainable, balanced budget, with an appropriate combination of cuts, reforms and revenue, so we can fully fund education, human services and everything else Illinoisans rely on their state government to provide. That would be really good news.