Pritzker to prioritize education in 2020 budget


Fernanda Weissbuch

Pritzker to prioritize education in 2020 budget

By Katherine Savage

Financial relief could be on the way for a greater number of Columbia students. The troubled and under-funded state Monetary Award Program is scheduled to get a $50 million boost under Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2020 budget proposal.

“For our fiscal and economic health, we must start with a sustained effort to restore and improve our education system,” Pritzker said in his Feb. 20 speech at the Illinois State Capitol building. 

In the speech, Pritzker prioritized health and human services, public safety and education.

Pritzker plans to increase funding include a $50 million increase for MAP grants for public and private colleges, which are need-based grants that do not have to be repaid. He also plans to increase funding for early childhood education, a major that Columbia recently announced would be discontinued. Pritzker also proposed waiving fees for Advanced Placement tests. 

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission provides MAP grants as part of its mission to make college accessible and affordable for students, said Lynne Baker, managing director of communications at ISAC.

Illinois had a MAP budget of $401 million in the 2018 fiscal year, and nearly 130,000 students received aid. However, nearly 98,000 eligible students did not, Baker said. In 2017 and 2018, the grant served only 43 percent of eligible students, she added.

Insufficient funding has also led to many students not receiving enough money to cover the full price of tuition. The maximum MAP award covered only one-third of tuition for a student at a public university and two-thirds for a student at a community college, Baker said.

That’s compared to 2002 “when MAP was actually able to meet the needs of all eligible applicants, and it fully covered [tuition and fees] at the average public university or community college,” Baker said. “Tuition and fees have gone up a lot [in recent years, but] MAP grants haven’t gone up.”

In his budget proposal, Pritzker said a $50 million increase would allow for about 15,000 more low and moderate-income students to receive funding. 

However, Baker said there is a fine line between trying to accommodate more students and giving students more funding to try and cover their full tuition.

In the 2017–2018 school year, Columbia had 1,504 students who received MAP grants, according to college spokeswoman Anjali Julka in a Feb. 28 email statement        toThe Chronicle. 

“We are encouraged by the state’s recent proposed increase for the Monetary Award Program as it would enable more low-income Illinois-based students to attend college in Illinois,” said Associate Vice President of Student Financial Services Cynthia Grunden in a Feb. 28 email statement. “We look forward to a budget that includes greater financial support for students.”

Karla Rivera, director of public affairs at Ingenuity—a company that works to increase access to arts education in Chicago Public Schools—said Pritzker’s proposal is a good start to fixing education funding  in Illinois.

“The more debt-free a student can be, the more freedom they have to delve into college in profound ways,” Rivera said.

Cutting the fee for Advanced Placement testing could help students complete credits with qualifying AP scores, giving them more options to take different courses, she added. 

“It allows a pathway to a really advanced understanding of a particular curricular area,” Rivera said. “It [also] frees up space for students to engage in further exploration of other subjects that they may not have thought about.”