Illinois lawmakers to lose tuition waiver perk

July 11, 2012

By City Room and The Associated Press

Illinois lawmakers are losing a century-old political perk — the ability to award college scholarships.

Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation Wednesday to end the practice after one last round of awards this summer. The awards are actually tuition waivers, meaning universities wind up educating the students and not getting any payment.

"Too often, the program was abused in a political way," Quinn said. "It wasn't what you ... know, or - but rather who you knew and, and how you maneuvered to get a scholarship."

Over the years, legislators have given waivers to the children of friends, campaign donors and political allies.

The program has one basic rule. Legislators must give the waivers to students living in their district. But even that rule has been broken many times.

State Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, was one of a few dozen lawmakers who voted to keep the waivers. Abolishing them will disproportionately hurt miniroty students and kids who don't get perfect grades, she said.

"I think it's unfair when people are trying to stop a middle-class, or an economically challenged group from getting a college degree. Now, that's all this is about," Davis said.

Quinn's administration said the legislative perk cost the state more than $13 million dollars in lost tuition during the 2010 school year. The tuition waivers will be gone for good come September.