State: Lawmakers pass $600 million university stopgap

By Dave McKinney & Karen Pierog 
Reuters

CHICAGO – Illinois’ cash-starved public universities and community colleges won a temporary financial reprieve on Friday after the state legislature approved a $600 million funding plan.

The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who praised its passage and is expected to sign it.

“By passing this bipartisan agreement, lawmakers in both chambers put aside political differences to provide emergency assistance for higher education, ensuring universities and community colleges remain open and low-income students can pay for school,” Rauner said in a statement after the House and Senate votes.

The funding plan represents a partial break in a crippling 10-month budget stalemate between Rauner and Democrats who control the state legislature that has hit the state’s higher education and social service systems acutely. The impasse has left Illinois as the only state in the country without a full operating budget.

The votes came as Chicago State University, which serves a predominantly minority enrollment in Chicago, said it would have to quit paying its employees at the end of the month because of the lack of state funding.

Under the legislation now headed to Rauner, the university would get $20.1 million. Low-income students reliant on Illinois’ Monetary Award Program scholarships also would see about $169.7 million.

But the overall $600 million allotment represents only about 34 percent of the $1.7 billion that Democrats originally had earmarked for higher-education spending in this fiscal year.

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