Editorial: MAP Plus: From election ploy to disaster

With elections fast approaching, Illinois politicians are touting their plans to fund higher education. Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s latest election ploy is a perverted attempt to win over middle-class voters by offering a $500 MAP Plus grant to their college-aged children. This proposal will not only gut one of the few well-run state government organizations, but also jeopardize the chances for low-income students to get a fair shot at getting a college degree.

The MAP Plus program is offered to families who make less than $200,000 to help pay for a child’s tuition on a first-come, first-served basis. While this is not meant to say middle class families do not deserve financial assistance, the idea that taxpayer money could be allocated to help a family that makes $190,000 a year is ludicrous, especially when the state does not have enough money to help low-income families that make far less pay for college.

What is even more outrageous is where the funding for the program is supposed to come from. Over the years, Blagojevich has manipulated the Illinois Student Assistance Comission and quietly appointed more favorable members to the commission. The general assembly, dominated by Democrats who support Blagojevich, passed legislation dictating that the commission’s non-student loan portfolio be sold. Proceeds from the sale – which has not yet occurred – will fund the MAP Plus grant. The imaginary money appropriated for the grant ran out in mid-September. The commission now has no choice but to sell, even though interest earned from the portfolio allowed the commission to remain a self-sustaining entity. In the meantime, the colleges and universities in our state will have to pay out the funds to students waiting for the money – if they can afford it. Dan Mann, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University, said at the University, this amounts to about $3 million.

The most distressing fact is that most of the money the state receives from the sale will not even go to higher education. The portfolio is estimated to be worth between $300 million to $500 million. MAP Plus grants were to be given out to about 71,000 families, which amounts to about $35.5 million. The rest of the proceeds will be used to help balance the budget. This would be a triumph for a governor who is trying to win re-election.

When the money gets tight again next year, the general assembly will underfund the commission just like it has with this University, leading to cuts or elimination of numerous outreach programs that help lower-income students.

Why should their future be sacrificed for a mere election ploy?