State poised to abolish legislative scholarships

A state funded scholarship that has assisted thousands of students attend college could be abolished this year if a proposed bill in the Illinois House reaches the governor’s desk.

A state-funded scholarship that has assisted thousands of students attend college could be abolished this year if a proposed bill in the Illinois House reaches the governor’s desk.

The General Assembly Legislative Scholarship is available to every state representative and senator to use to assist up to eight students living in the legislator’s respective district with tuition expenses at any state university. The scholarships do not pay for books, room and board and other fees.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, over 3,500 students have attended college since 2000 using the GAL scholarships. And since its 1909 inception, over 300,000 students have been awarded the scholarship.

On the West Side state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-8th Dist., said the scholarships have made it possible for many low-income students in his district to attend college.

“You should see the light in their eyes when they are informed they won,” he explained. “For many students this is the only way they will be able to go away to college and experience living on their own. Some things are best left untouched and this is one of them.”

Gov. Pat Quinn said during his budget address last month that if House Bill 0201 reaches his desk, he would sign it.

“We should abolish the legislative scholarship program,” Quinn said. “We need to revamp our higher education system to increase access for all students. Therefore, we will increase funding for the Monetary Assistance Program, which provides scholarships for qualified needy students, with a particular focus on community college students.”

However, MAP awards are based on financial need, which the U.S. Department of Education determines once a student applies for financial aid.

The GAL scholarship is not need-based, instead other criteria is used such as academic performance, letters of recommendation and a written essay. A committee, which could include the legislator, then determines the winners.

The governor’s support for the bill has disappointed some Black lawmakers.

“The governor took away free rides for all seniors and now he supports taking away a scholarship that benefits hundreds of minority students every year,” said Rickey Hendon, the former state senator for the 5th District who resigned last week.

Hendon, who was first elected in 1993, had awarded a total of 152 GAL scholarships.

There are four state universities in Chicago, including Chicago State University. The South Side higher learning institution has a predominately Black student population and since 2006, school records show 95 students attended CSU using the scholarship.

During the same time period 68 students attended Governors State University and 246 students attended Northeastern Illinois University on a GAL scholarship. Waived tuition for the scholarships totaled $163,700 at GSU and $878,706 at NEIU. Data for CSU and the University of Illinois-Chicago were not available at Defender press time.

A majority of scholarship recipients from state Rep. Monique Davis’ 27th District on the Far South Side have attended CSU.

“Even though Chicago State is not located in my district that is where most of my scholarship recipients go,” Davis said. “I have given out 160 scholarships during my tenure and I know without this scholarship these students would not have been able to go to college.”

Davis, who has been a state representative since 1987, added that each year she awards eight, one-year scholarships and plans to fight to keep the scholarship in place.

“I get tired of people trying to take away from those who do not have much,” she said.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-31st Dist., has been in office since 1985 and is the longest serving Black representative. Since first being elected she has given out about 200 scholarships.

She questions why several white legislators would want to end the scholarships.

“Why are we (Blacks) not entitled to this scholarship? Poor people pay more taxes than the rich and these scholarships are paid for with tax dollars,” she explained. “There use to be a time when people could earn college degrees while in prison but we took that away. Now we’re talking about taking away a scholarship that makes it possible for many Black kids to go college. Something is wrong with that picture.”

Democrat state Rep. Lisa Dugan, whose 79th District covers such areas as Bradley and Kankakee, does not participate in the scholarship program and supports abolishing it. She fears it may lead to higher tuition costs.

“By continuing to award these legislative scholarships universities are losing money and it could lead to an increase in tuition, which would hurt needy students already struggling,” Dugan told the Defender. “I know universities award athletic and other scholarships but they control how many to give out opposed to elected officials making that decision.”

If the bill becomes law, students currently on a GAL scholarship would continue to receive it until their respective scholarship expires. No new scholarships would be awarded, however.

State institutions where the scholarships are accepted include Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, Illinois State University, Governors State University, and Northeastern Illinois University.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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