Plan To Equalize Illinois Universities' Stopgap Funding Disparities

May 3, 2016

Chicago State University is getting 60 percent of its state funding, while other higher education institutions are getting only 30 percent.
Credit csu.edu

Thanks to a law signed last week, Illinois' public universities and community colleges are finally getting state money for the first time since last summer. Now, more could be on the way.

The bipartisan deal is sending $600 million to higher education.

But it wasn't spread out evenly.

Most schools got 30-percent of last year's funding.

Chicago State University got 60-percent.

Senator Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, says that's because CSU was on the precipice of a shutdown.

"We wanted to spend the dollars where it did the most good, where the help was needed the most. And as we without a doubt know, Chicago State -- for years of underfunding and not funding -- was in the most critical condition. So we certainly wanted to give them as much of their funding, 2016 funding, as we could," he said. "And at the same time find what we thought was an adequate amount for these other universities, that didn't express the urgency as much as it was at Chicago State."

Other schools have since complained that was unfair; Western and Eastern Illinois Universities have already let workers go (even after the partial funding, CSU laid off 300 employees).

Trotter is sponsor of a new plan, SB2048, which  Tuesday won a Senate committee's approval. It would get all universities and colleges up to the 60-percent mark.

"We tried desperately to find at least some more dollars, some new dollars, to not only give parity to those universities, but also to give them a fighting chance ... to make that bridge actually happen from 2016 to 2017," Trotter said.

That would cost Illinois government another $450 million, when it's already running a deficit.

It would be paid for, but in a tricky way: by not restoring money the state borrowed from some of its own accounts, which had been earmarked for other priorities.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, who vetoed higher education spending from the out of balance budget Democrats sent him a year ago, says he hopes to put more money into higher education, but has talked about that as part of a comprehensive budget deal. He did previously embrace this funding mechanism.

"While the Governor is open to discussing emergency bridge funding for higher education, human services and public safety, he remains focused on enacting a comprehensive balanced budget for Fiscal Years 2016-2017 alongside meaningful reforms to grow our economy," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said Tuesday.