Governor Rauner Signs Legislation to Fund Higher Education

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A rare thaw in Springfield: Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats in the General Assembly came together to approve emergency funding for higher education. Where did the money come from, and will it stave off massive layoffs and class disruption at local universities such as Chicago State?

Rauner signed into law Monday a $600 million measure that provides only a portion of what state colleges and universities have normally gotten from Springfield. Representatives of Chicago State, Northeastern Illinois and the University of Illinois system say they are still analyzing what kind of impact the funding will have on operations, and how many cuts and layoffs can be averted.

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[RelatedLawmakers on Higher Education Law, Overhauling Public Education Funding]

The governor sounded an optimistic tone after signing the bill, saying in a statement: “This legislation doesn't solve our budget crisis or help our economy grow, but it does represent a first step toward compromise between Democrats and Republicans.”

The money comes from an education assistance fund separate from the general state budget that was carrying a surplus. The bill passed with a bipartisan 106-2 vote in the House on Friday.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Chicago State has shortened its spring semester and will end classes at the end of this week because of the budget impasse. This funding measure represents 60 percent of the $36 million it normally receives from the state. Unlike a school like the U of I, it does not have a giant endowment from benefactors and alumni to draw on.

The school was facing the prospect of massive layoffs over the summer.

“Twenty million dollars is a lot of money,” said CSU President Thomas Calhoun. “The fact of the matter is, however, it's $20 million 10 months into the fiscal year. ... It's a lot less money, and it's a lot later, but it’s better than where we were last week at this time. We're very happy but we do recognize that it is a stopgap, it is something to hold us over. It is not the solution.”

Other local colleges sounded tones of appreciation but did not specifically say how this would affect their plans to continue operating going forward.

Despite the general positive feeling among lawmakers after this, House Speaker Michael Madigan on Friday issues this harsh statement:

“While the governor has said he would approve this small portion of funding for higher education, it’s unfortunate he was unwilling to approve any further funding for human services. If he continues his unwillingness to assist our human service providers, he will be successful in destroying the safety net for those most in need.”

Lawmakers return to Springfield next week.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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