Higher education is being decimated and the blame lies squarely with Governor Rauner
May 6, 2017

Two-and-a-half years ago, we would have called it a political stalemate. Twelve months ago, it would have best been described as a financial challenge. Today, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to call it a fiscal crisis of epic proportions.

What are we referring to? It is the woeful lack of a State budget and how, among many things, it is decimating the public universities in Illinois.

College-bound students born here are leaving the state in droves—to the tune of approximately 13,000 per year—in 2016 that number swelled to more than 20,000. Now, approximately 45% of Illinois high school graduates enroll in a school outside the state, compared to 29% in 2002. Our state trails only New Jersey with the highest number of students enrolling elsewhere for what they perceive to be financially healthier institutions of higher learning. Our students and their parents are turning to the Universities of Michigan and Iowa, Michigan State, Marquette, and points all across the country. New Jersey has held this dubious distinction for many years with few public universities available for its in-state residents, other than Rutgers.

But, Illinois—now second to last in the country? Really? Even states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Dakotas are keeping their residents with aspirations for a higher education degree at home at a higher rate.

Many students are leaving even though we can proudly boast of the University of Illinois system with three great offerings in Chicago (UIC), Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and Springfield. And what about Northern and Southern Illinois Universities, the universities at Eastern and Western Illinois, and Illinois State? How about Chicago State and Governors State Universities? CSU and GSU are entry points for many African-American students. And, what about the City Colleges of Chicago? These are all great opportunities for Illinois families and yet they are hanging on by their financial fingernails.

And do you know what happens when students in those other states stay home, earn their bachelor’s degrees, and perhaps go on for their master’s or PhD? They stay home and create a viable work force for their states. And do you know what will happen to the majority of Illinois residents who earn their college degrees out-of-state? They won’t come home. They’ll find jobs, fall in love, and stay put right where they received their diplomas. Not only will these graduates “turn their tassels from the right to the left” but, they will turn their collective noses on Illinois and make a life for themselves elsewhere.

So what will be the long-term affect for our state and for Chicago if this exodus continues? How many businesses will want to move here and bring needed jobs to boost our Illinois economy when we suffer from such a massive “brain drain?” Not many, that’s for sure.

The state budget stalemate has forced state universities to become creative, and the University of Illinois at Chicago is leading the way. UIC is accepting students’ Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants in good faith even though they are not funded, expecting the state will fund them eventually. It is looking at selective budget cuts. It is recruiting students from outside Illinois, who pay higher tuition. It is covering state shortfalls through cash balances that it saved for a rainy day, and through revenues gained through the healthcare services it provides. UIC is standing behind its commitments to its students, faculty, staff, and patients.

So whom do we have to blame for higher education’s unfortunate and unnecessary mess? Who should shoulder the blame for the worst financial crisis in the history of the State of Illinois?

We put the blame squarely on Governor Bruce Rauner and his infamous “Turnaround Agenda.” Oh sure, you can fall for the political rhetoric if you want and believe our very wealthy Governor who tries to make himself look like one of the people by wearing plaid flannel shirts and making commercials blaming everyone else for our fiscal woes. Our Governor might not be creative when it comes to passing a budget for our state, but he sure knows how to find interesting uses for duct tape.

We would like to offer Governor Rauner some suggestions to get us through this fiscal crisis:

• Stop campaigning and start governing. Your primary job and responsibility is to pass a state budget. Your campaign for re-election shouldn’t even be allowed to begin until you pass your first budget.

• Stop worrying about Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker and others who have thrown their hats in the ring like Alderman Ameya Pawar, State Senator Daniel Biss, and Madison County School Superintendent Bob Daiber. There will be plenty enough opportunity to spend the $50 million in your war chest against whoever wins the Democratic primary. Even Rod Blagojevich passed six budgets during his time in office. So did a long list of Republican Governors who had to work with Democratic legislators. Among them were Jim Ryan, Jim Edgar, and Jim Thompson. Want to know what all these Governors, along with Pat Quinn, had in common? No, not all of them went to jail, sorry. (You folks are such cynics.) They all worked with a guy by the name of Michael Madigan. Yep, that same Michael Madigan whom Governor Rauner is portraying as the great villain in this caper. Is Mike Madigan perfect? Nope. But, he is the common denominator working with a wide range of Illinois Governors to pass budget after budget. Were all of these budgets perfect or even optimal for the State? No, but they allowed it to function and didn’t bleed to death our state universities, K through 12 education, health care institutions, or social services programs.

• Act with courage and reinstate the State income tax at 5%. You let the higher rate sunset after Governor Quinn left office and took $4.5 billion in revenues annually out of the state coffers. The lack of a budget is now costing us $12 million a day in interest.

• Give up on the state freeze on property taxes. This is nothing but a ploy to decimate public education in Illinois. You ran on the platform of a champion for schools, but if the word “charter” isn’t in front of it, we doubt your commitment. You are leaving 400,000 school children in the CPS system in the lurch by not freeing up the $215 million allocation owed to it. If Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS chief Forest Claypool shut down the schools on June 1, we hope every CPS family and teacher remembers this come election time. The property tax freeze looks good to your constituents and might gain you a few more votes in 2018, but it takes vital resources away from our educational system. Instead, lead the way through real reform and how we fund education fairly in Illinois.

We have been urging our readers to rise up and resist in the era of the Trump administration. It is time to stand up, resist, and preserve public higher education in Illinois. Call your State Senators and Representatives today and tell them you demand a stopgap budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 that will provide a tourniquet for our state schools and provide MAP funding for our students. You can find your local legislators by going to www.ilga.gov. Then, barrage the Governor’s office. Here is his number: (217) 782-0244. Please, start dialing. Do it for our students and for their futures. And, do it for the future of the State of Illinois.