Illinois House proposes two bills to fund higher education

Analicia Haynes, Administration Editor

Two proposed bills promising funding for higher education are being discussed this week before they are expected to hit the House floor.

House Bill 5045, sponsored by Rep. Rita Mayfield (D) from the 60th district, and HB2344, sponsored by Rep. Mike Fortner (R) from the 49th district, ask for emergency funding for higher education by pulling the funds from the Illinois Education Assistance Fund.

The Education Assistance Fund helps pay the costs for K-12 education and higher education.

But according to Capitol Fax, The Education Assistance Fund will have a surplus of $600 million by the end of the 2016 fiscal year on June 30.

HB 5045 seeks to only fund Eastern, Western Illinois University, Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University; it does not fund the six other universities or the Monetary Award Program.

Rep. Reggie Philips (R) from the 110th district co-sponsored both bills and said the reason HB5045 funds these four is because they need emergency funding the most.

Phillips said Mayfield’s bill was based on a previous bill he and Rep. Kenneth Dunkin (D) from the 5th district filed but was voted out.

“(HB 5045) will give these universities a funding start,” Phillips said. “We just need everyone to get on board.”

Fortner’s bill will also draw from the Education Assistance Fund; however, it will use the $600 million to stopgap higher education spending and provide one semester’s worth of MAP grant funding.

It will also include changes in the procurement code, something Gov. Bruce Rauner mentioned in his turnaround agenda.

A spokesperson from Rauner’s office said the Rauner administration supports Fortner’s bill; however, Phillips said Rauner is also in support of Mayfield’s bill and will not tie any turnaround agenda to it.

Although he is sponsoring both bills, Phillips said he prefers Mayfield’s bill because it gives Eastern the full $40 million, whereas Fortner’s bill would give Eastern about $20 million.

“Which would you rather have, $40 million or $20 million?” Phillips said. “You would take the $40 million.”

Charles Wheeler, the director of Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield, said although the bills provide funding for the universities, it does not mean it will generate new revenue.

Wheeler said although there is a surplus in the Education Assistance Fund, when it is combined with the General Revenue Fund and the Common School Fund there is not a surplus of money.

However, though his plan provides a temporary solution, Fortner said in an article in Capitol Fax that a full budget is difficult in this environment.

At this point, Phillips said the challenge for Mayfield’s bill is to get as many sponsors as possible in order to get present it to the House.

Phillips said as of right now the bills are in Madigan’s court and he decides whether they are brought to the House for debate.

“He has the authority to shut her bill down and if it doesn’t it puts us back to square one again,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the members of the General Assembly would need to vote on either bill by the end of the week because they will not return to session next week.

“I’m really super optimistic we are going to get something by the end of this week,” Phillips said. “I’m so hopeful that we can get it done.”

Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) also filed Senate Bill 3423, which would appropriate money for four-year universities and community colleges on a need based formula through the Education Assistance Fund.

This piece of legislation would also fund Monetary Award Program grants by 100 percent using money from the General Revenue Fund.

If the legislation were to be passed, $400 million would be given to the Illinois Board of Higher Education to give to public universities, and $365 million for MAP grants.

Righter said this formula is based on the amount of money universities are projected to have at the end of the fiscal year.

“It takes into account that some universities are in more financial trouble than others,” Righter said.

Righter said this is why he filed this legislation and likes it better than others, as he claims it will ensure schools that need help like Chicago State University, Eastern, Western and Northeastern Illinois University get a bulk of the money.

While Righter first started talking to people about the Education Assistance Fund, he was concerned because he did not believe the balance was enough to contribute “meaningful help” to higher education.

Because the Education Assistance Fund has built up more money since then, Righter said the fund is now better able to help universities.

Righter said people at Eastern called and gave him more information about the Education Assistance Fund.

 

Cassie Buchman contributed to this article.

 

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]