Education plan sparks controversy

By HongBin Jeong , Staff Writer

With Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s inauguration quickly approaching, some are concerned he will not be able to keep his campaign promises for higher education once he takes his seat in the capital.

Pritzker’s plan for higher education in the state focuses on three key areas: increasing college affordability, keeping Illinois students in-state and expanding economic opportunity and promoting innovation.

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Pritzker aims to increase funding for the Monetary Award Program by 50 percent, or $200 million. MAP gives grants which do not need to be repaid to Illinois residents based on their financial need and other information listed in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

He also plans to increase the maximum MAP award with the goal of reducing the cost of student loan payments through the establishment of a state-administered student loan refinancing program.

Pritzker also hopes to reinstate funding for community colleges and public universities and to create a task force that will focus on providing a free college education.

“It’s time to build a student-centered system that is more affordable, attractive to students nationally and globally and aligned with the jobs of tomorrow,” Pritzker said in his higher education plan.

Brian Gaines, professor in LAS, said Pritzker’s plan implies substantial surges in spending, which may make it difficult for Pritzker to deliver on promises he made for higher education during his run for governor.

“The state, however, is in dreadful fiscal condition, effectively bankrupt,” Gaines said in an email. “His plan to change the constitution, to allow for a higher state income tax rate on the comparatively wealthy takes years to achieve, because it requires public approval at an election.”

Currently, the Illinois Constitution has a flat income tax, which Pritzker wants to change to a graduated structure that provides an increase of rates as taxable amount increases.

In his plan, Pritzker blames Rauner for the hardships of the education system.

“By derailing financial aid and destabilizing support for colleges and universities, Bruce Rauner has failed every Illinois family struggling to pay for college,” Pritzker said.

However, Gaines said the reason higher education is not doing well in Illinois is not primarily because of Rauner but simply because there has not been enough money to go around.

“If (Pritzker) is not giving us much new money, preventing further tuition hikes is not going to be easy,” Gaines said.

Jack Johnson, president of Illini Republicans and junior in Engineering, said Pritzker’s plan for higher education is a political stunt.

“Sadly, in the grand scheme of things, $200 million isn’t much, especially applied to the sixth-largest state in the Union,” Johnson said in an email. “While this might sound shocking, considering the U of I system’s annual budget: $6.5 billion, J.B. is proposing throwing barely 3 percent of that — which the state of Illinois simply cannot afford — toward both in- and out-of-state students and claiming it’ll cause a miraculous difference.”

Pritzker has already moved toward keeping his promise by creating a new committee to address school funding issues, teacher shortages and the decrease of graduates in K-12 and higher education on Nov. 27, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Kevin Meyers, junior in LAS and policy director for Illini Democrats, and Aishwarya Shekara, sophomore in LAS and communications director for the organization, said in an email that they believe Pritzker’s plan is feasible.

“His plan, based on its outline on his website, largely involves funding our schools with state money directly and increasing financial aid through grants. J.B. will have a unified government, so I doubt he will have much of an issue passing his agenda,” Illini Democrats said.

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