Gov. Quinn abolishes political scholarships

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law on July 11 abolishing the century-old political scholarship program in Illinois, one of his ethics reform goals since taking office.

The Governor proposed to abolish this troubled program in 2009, 2010 and in 2011, and worked with the General Assembly to get it done this spring. Gov. Quinn is committed to increasing college scholarships to students with merit who are in true financial need as well as restoring integrity to state government.

“There is no place for political scholarships in Illinois,” Gov. Quinn said. “I believe in the power of education, the importance of ethics and integrity, and the idea that you can get ahead in life with a little hard work. That’s why today I enact this long-overdue reform and redouble our efforts to increase scholarships for deserving college students.”

House Bill 3810, sponsored by Representative Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), provides that members of the General Assembly may no longer award higher education scholarships after Sept. 1, 2012.

Recipients nominated for the 2012-2013 school year will still be awarded their scholarship. The legislation was passed following numerous news reports documenting abuse of scholarships and advocacy from the Governor, Lt. Governor and good government groups.

The General Assembly Scholarship program allowed legislators to annually award eligible persons from their district with scholarships waiving tuition fees at state universities.

Legislators were found to have awarded scholarships to relatives, political insiders and to people living outside their district.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the program cost 11 of 12 public state universities an aggregated $13.4 million in waived tuition fees.

“While legislative scholarships help a small number of students, the program’s abuse comes at an incredibly high cost in terms of trust in government and absorbed tuition at colleges and universities,” Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said. “By eliminating the legislative scholarship program, Illinois can take a meaningful step toward improving our ethical standards, while focusing our efforts on making college more affordable for all students.”

“Abolishing the political scholarship program ends a needless waste of taxpayer dollars and helps to alleviate state universities from an unfair financial burden,” said Rep. Crespo. “Signing this legislation into law stops these abuses in the General Assembly and restores faith in our government.”

HB 3810 also creates a task force to review all tuition and fee waivers offered by state universities, ensuring that taxpayer dollars funding these public institutions are being spent appropriately and helping those of merit in financial need.

The task force must report its findings on or before April 15, 2013.

“It is unfortunate that the legislative scholarship program was misused by legislators, taking away what for some students was their only way of attending college,” said President Cullerton. “This new law will allow us to take a comprehensive look at all tuition waivers and how we can make higher education more accessible for those who need the most help.”

The new law is supported by the Better Government Association and numerous reform advocates. The law is effective immediately.

“I am pleased that the practice of Illinois lawmakers handing out free college tuition waivers has come to an end,” state treasurer Dan Rutherford said. “Our state’s university system is outstanding, but it is financially stressed, even as tuition rates rise. It will remain important as we move forward to continue appropriate financial aid for those students who demonstrate need.”