A flurry of bills affecting higher education have been introduced in Springfield this year.
A recurring theme: stopping the so-called brain drain of Illinois’ best and brightest to universities outside Illinois. That’s an issue newly sworn-in Gov. JB Pritzker ran on.
Pritzker’s solution is to boost state grant funding, known as the Monetary Award Program, for low- income college students by 50 percent or by $200 million. Pritzker releases his budget state blueprint next week.
But stemming that student exodus is just one of the issues lawmakers want to tackle; their bills range from protecting free speech to paying some student athletes a salary. Details on how to cover the cost of many of the proposed bills haven’t been detailed.
Here are some bills that could get some attention this legislative session:
HB 26: Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, is pitching a plan to automatically accept any Illinois student in the top 10 percent of his or her graduating high school class into any public college or university in the state. Thapedi first introduced the bill last session as a way to keep Illinois students in the state for college and increase enrollment among underrepresented groups. The University of Illinois system has opposed the bill, arguing that U of I doesn’t have the resources to provide remedial education for students who may have graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes but aren’t ready for advanced college level work. Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, filed a similar bill in the Senate, SB1309.
HB 217: Rep. Mary Flowers, D- Chicago, wants to prohibit public universities and community colleges from asking about an applicant’s criminal history during the admissions process. According to a 2017 study from the National Employment Law Project, an estimated 47 percent of Illinois residents have some kind of criminal or arrest record. This number is an extrapolation based on U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. Student groups across the state have voiced support for the bill, including a coalition called YES APPLY ILLINOIS!
HB 329: This bill, filed by Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, would require public universities to consider athletes who compete in the three most financially profitable athletic programs on campus as employees. Athletes would be paid a minimum of $25,000 per academic year. It’s unclear how this would affect or change athletic scholarships.
HR 50: Rep. Thomas Bennett, R-Gibson City, filed a house resolution that condemns public college and universities in the state from limiting students’ free speech on campus. The resolution says colleges and universities are increasingly stifling student free speech on campus, but doesn’t specify what prompted it.
SB 1167: This bill would create an adult vocational community college scholarship program starting in the 2020-2021 academic year. The scholarships would be for students over 30 years old who have been unemployed and are looking to earn a specific certificate or associate’s degree. The maximum scholarship would be $2,000 per year. Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed similar legislation in the House, HB 302.
SB 1342: This bill, filed by Rep. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, would create a state-run student loan refinancing program. College graduates who are Illinois residents can refinance their student loans with the state to receive the lowest possible interest rate. As long as the graduate remained a resident of Illinois, the lower interest rate would apply.
HB 827: Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, filed a bill to create an elected school board for the City Colleges of Chicago. Currently, the mayor appoints board members. Under this bill, the city would be divided into 20 districts with one at-large position. Martwick also filed a bill to create an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools, reflecting a push to move away from an appointed Chicago Board of Education. Many Chicago mayoral candidates support the switch.