General Assembly agrees on bill to fund universities through the summer

Cassie Buchman, Associate News Editor

A bill that would spend $600 million to fund public universities and colleges through the summer, SB2059, passed through the House and Senate Friday morning.

If approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner, $12,456,500 will be appropriated from the Education Assistance Fund to Eastern’s Board of Trustees for ordinary and contingent expenses.

The bill passed the House 106-2 and the Senate 55-0. Rauner has indicated he will sign the bill, which has now been sent to him, The Chicago Tribune reports.

$20,107,300 is allocated to Chicago State University; $6,974,400 is given to Governor’s State University; $10,695,100 is allocated to Northeastern Illinois University, and $57,482,200 is allocated to Southern Illinois University.

Northern Illinois University will receive $26,403,200 under this bill, and $14,911,400 will go to Western Illinois University.

The University of Illinois will receive $167,645,200, and Illinois State University will be given $20,934,900.

$74,142,300 will be given to the Illinois Community College Board, and $169,798,700 will be used for Monetary Award Program grants.

Paul McCann, interim vice president for business affairs, said the money from this legislation would be used for operating expenses, such as salaries for current employees and supplies.

“This will go to support the budget that’s already out there for FY16, and then we’ll be doing in June a (FY17) budget,” McCann said.

The $12,456,500 given to Eastern is not enough to bring back laid off employees and will not go to any one area or department; it will just be used to cover the university’s expenses for about two months.

McCann said the administration would continue monitoring what is happening in Springfield, and they will make the necessary decisions to continue operating.

The bill was passed because money is sitting in the Education Assistance Fund to pay for it, McCann said.

Although the bill is “better than a poke in the eye,” McCann said there were other bills being discussed that would have helped the university more, and this bill funds the university for a fairly short period of time.

“There are others that would have given us more money,” McCann said. “This is probably the least of all of them.”

He said the bill funds Monetary Award Program grants somewhere around $3.5 million.

“They’re going to fund the fall semester of MAP grants,” McCann said. “The students will see no difference.”

President David Glassman said the stopgap bill is a good thing and will definitely help universities through the summer.

“I see this as a first step toward moving forward with the budget,” Glassman said. “It’s really good to see both sides working together in a bipartisan effort and this is the beginning of funding for higher education.”

As the May 1 deadline to make their final college decision approaches for many high school seniors, Glassman said he has been trying to spread the message that legislators need to continue to work toward a budget to ensure that students are confident in choosing schools in Illinois.

Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) voted in favor of a concurrence on SB2059.  Righter said he voted because Eastern and community colleges need an infusion of cash right away despite the fact that there were “major flaws” in the bill.

“(There was) no other vote than a yes vote,” Righter said.

Righter said this legislation gets critical dollars to Eastern and other institutions in dire need of funding right now.

“It’s a major step forward and helps EIU for the immediate future. It’s not as much as some wanted, but it is something we can afford for the moment,” Righter said.

One of the major flaws Righter saw in the bill was that it gave too much money to Chicago State University, which he called “the worst performing university in Illinois.”

“For CSU to not have laid off a single person while screaming they need money is irresponsible,” Righter said. “I don’t like the idea of laying people off, but if you’re seriously trying to save money, it has to be an option.”

Righter said he is not saying Chicago State should not be funded, but Eastern should have gotten more money.

“The money spent on them could have gone to EIU, WIU, more community colleges,” Righter said.

Righter said the moment a Democratic leader brings the legislature back into session, he would be happy to go back and work on getting more funding for Eastern and other higher education institutions.

He said though they will not be in session next week, he and others will still call, email and meet to talk about what to do next.

Righter did not vote for SB2059 before the concurrence, as he said there were lots of other things in that bill, and higher education would have had to wait later to get any money.

However, with this concurrence, Righter said universities would get money soon, and that there was money able to fund this bill in the Education Assistance Fund.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said by passing the bipartisan agreement, lawmakers in both chambers were able to put aside political differences to provide emergency funding for higher education.

“We are hopeful the General Assembly will build on this bipartisan momentum in the weeks ahead as we negotiate a balanced budget with reform for fiscal years 2016 and 2017,” Kelly said in a statement.

However, House Speaker Michael Madigan said it is unfortunate that Rauner has not approved further funding for human services.

“I am hopeful the governor sees the funding in this higher education package not as a solution, but as emergency assistance to those most in need,” Madigan said. “Time will tell if Gov. Rauner has further intentions of destroying our state institutions and human service providers, or if he will begin working with us to craft a full-year budget that is not contingent on passage of his demands that will destroy the middle class.”


Analicia Haynes contributed to this article.

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]