Treasurer stumps for college grant program

Members of the House of Representatives work toward adjournment while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. Illinois lawmakers scramble to finish up business in their spring session with votes to legalize gay marriage and regulate hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas predicted, but uncertain. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — State Treasurer Mike Frerichs is on the road in a push to get the General Assembly and the governor to restore funding for a need-based program to help Illinoisans attend college.

“These are not scholarships given out so people can go have caviar lunches,” Frerichs, D-Champaign, said of the Monetary Award Program during a visit to the University of Illinois Springfield.

“The recipients of MAP grants are truly the neediest (students) in our state, and those we give (the grants) to are not even all the students who qualify,” he said.

No one in state government seems to disagree when it comes to the merits of the Monetary Award Program.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s original budget proposal called for about $372 million for MAP, while the spending plan sent to Rauner by the Legislature allocated $397 million, Frerichs pointed out.

A bill passed from the Senate with 37 votes in mid-August is pending in the House, and Frerichs and others have been speaking out in support for that measure, Senate Bill 2043, which would fund MAP at about $373 million.

For about 130,000 Illinois students and families, the MAP program is the difference between a college education and a high school one, said Frerichs, who was a first-generation college student in his family.

Frerichs argues an educated citizenry not only makes better lives for citizens and families but stimulates the state’s economy. He said studies indicate a college degree as opposed to a high school diploma alone generally means an additional million dollars of income over the course of a lifetime.

The governor’s office doesn’t disagree with the premise behind MAP, but without a state budget isn’t backing the immediate restoration of funding.

Top Rauner aide Richard Goldberg has written to senators saying, “absent proposals from the majority to reduce spending and balance the budget, SB 2043 would simply pave the way for more debt or higher taxes — and Gov. Rauner would veto it.”

The first-term Republican governor and Democrats who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly are at impasse over the state budget, and Illinois is winding out its third month of fiscal year 2016 without a budget in place.

Rauner complains the Democrats have sent him a plan billions heavier in spending than estimated revenue. While he’s indicated he’s willing to discuss new revenue, he says he won’t sign off until he gets what he considers fundamental reforms.

Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work with them until the governor gets movement on his own agenda items, which Democrats do not consider directly related to the annual budget.

Rauner answers that his proposals are necessary to improve the state’s economy.

As a result of the impasse, Frerichs said, those with no lobbyists and only the faintest of voices in Springfield — such as at-risk college students — are catching the fallout.

Jamie Anderson, a senior at UIS majoring in social work, spoke at the news conference on Tuesday and recounted how she — a product of the foster-family system — was a longshot for high school graduation, let alone a college degree.

Now, she said, she’s in the stretch run but worried about finishing.

“If I didn’t have that MAP grant, I would not be here,” she said. “Keep that in mind. There’s tons of other kids I know who work hard, just like me, who wouldn’t be here without the MAP grant.”

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