Are State Lawmakers Being Fair When It Comes To College Scholarships?

May 19, 2011
Sally Ho
Progress Illinois

Teachers everywhere have always stressed one simple rule when speaking to their students about college: work hard and the scholarships will come. But as we look at some policies in play related to funding for higher education, it seems that some lawmakers may disagree with that notion. Illinois legislators are bestowed with the power to hand out tuition waivers, but, unfortunately, corruption has sullied that process. On the other hand, the state’s DREAM Act is meant to give undocumented students better access to higher education funding. It has gotten support, but has yet to be signed into law.

Let’s start by looking at what’s more outlandish. The state Senate unanimously passed HB 1353 on Tuesday, a bill that would ban relatives from getting legislative scholarships for college from Senate or House members. In the past, the tuition waivers often went to relatives and friends of supporters or campaign donors of the delegating lawmaker, so when a proposal to change the rules for the process came to his desk last year, Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed it saying he wanted the system to end entirely. Quinn may not sign HB 1353 either.

As for the Illinois DREAM Act, immigrant advocates won a huge victory when the Senate passed SB 2185 with overwhelming bi-partisan support earlier this month. The bill establishes a privately-funded Illinois DREAM Fund for scholarships to “DREAM youths” and gives all families the opportunity to take part in college savings and prepaid tuition programs. Although there were many loud Tea Party critics, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has repeatedly said the bill does not grant status, nor does it spend any public money.

Chicago Mayor Emanuel, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also held a press conference last week calling for support of the state bill. The three also called for support of a federal DREAM Act, which was re-introduced in the U.S. Senate by Durbin last week after Washington voted it down in the last session. Former Ald. Manny Flores has also pledged $45,000 to the proposed state DREAM fund. In his historic Inaugural address Monday, Emanuel said this:

“We must make sure that every student who graduates from our high schools has the foundation for a good career or the opportunity to go to college. We must pass the Illinois Dream Act, so the children of undocumented immigrants have the chance to go to college. And we must make sure our city colleges are graduating students that businesses want to hire. If Chicago builds a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the businesses and jobs of the future will beat a path to our city.”