A bill to eliminate the controversial legislative scholarship program is advancing in the Illinois Senate. A measure to end the program is now supported by a key General Assembly leader–Senate President John Cullerton–who changed his position from supporting reforms aimed at policing the program to advocating its elimination.
The Better Government Association’s policy unit has been advocating a complete dismantling of the scholarship program and has strongly recommended President Cullerton call for a full Senate vote on a bill that will scuttle the troubled and clout-riddled legislative perk. The BGA and media outlets throughout the state have reported for years that this program is being misused and abused for political, not educational, purposes.
With Cullerton’s support, a full vote, without any major reform amendments attached, is expected to occur during this legislative session. The measure will also create a bi-partisan task force to examine all tuition and fee waivers offered by state universities.
“The BGA appreciates Senate President John Cullerton’s decision to support the elimination of the legislative scholarship program, which, as our investigations have shown, has frequently been used by unethical state lawmakers to reward political friends and cronies at taxpayer expense,” said Andy Shaw, CEO and president of the BGA.
The BGA contends there are enough Senate votes to pass the bill calling for an end to legislative scholarships. It already has 38 co-sponsors in that chamber. The Illinois House recently passed a measure ending the program and Governor Quinn has said he would sign it into law, which will finally discontinue the controversial tuition waiver program, which is beyond reform.
“Illinois doesn’t need another layer of government oversight to police the program–taxpayers simply need to know that scholarships are going to needy and deserving students based on competence, not clout. And those decisions are best left in the hands of educators, not politicians,” said Shaw. “So we hope the Senate follows the House’s lead and passes the bill, so that Governor Quinn can sign it into law. We fully support adequate state funding of scholarships, as long as their distribution’s not corrupted or politicized.”
Presently, every member of the Illinois General Assembly is allowed to give two tuition-free scholarships a year to major state universities to constituents in their district. In total, those scholarships cost taxpayers about $13 million a year.