Editor’s Note: Proposed state budget could provide much needed relief for students

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-in-chief

As reported on Page 14, Pritzker’s budget proposal includes a $50 million boost in Monetary Award Program grant funding. Also on his list is $594 million for the Early Childhood Block Grant, a 5 percent spending increase for public universities and community colleges, increased funding for the Advanced Placement Low-Income Test Fee Waiver and $35 million toward the AIM HIGH merit scholarship program.

Pritzker detailed the state’s financial baggage during his Feb. 20 proposal, including the $3.2 billion deficit and $15 billion debt from unpaid bills. Making a point about student finances, Pritzker said the state’s $700 million worth of late-payment penalties could cover tuition at a four-year university for more than 12,000 students. 

Pritzker also recognized the importance of investing in education and the consequences when those critical investments are not made, saying, “If we cut skills training and college affordability, we curb near-term economic growth, lower our prospects for future revenue and drive businesses away.”

While it is important to provide funds for higher education, it’s crucial for government officials to make a commitment to fund education during its early stages as well. When adequate education is given at early ages, students can continue to do well academically, which will then transfer into the higher education industry. Funding every level of education will ensure people have the greatest opportunities later in life, ensuring financial stability and success of the state. 

This budget proposal proves Pritzker has begun taking action on his campaign promises. Pritzker’s platform was based on support for many things, including support for early childhood education and higher education. Pritzker’s higher education goals included increasing affordability, keeping students from fleeing Illinois and expanding opportunities. Within these goals was a promise to increase MAP grant funding, as reported March 5, 2018, by The Chronicle. 

As students, higher education professors and administrators, we are aware of the struggles facing educational institutions nationwide. However, Illinois is suffering considerably. 

Illinois leads the way in the number of students pursuing out-of-state education, according to an Oct. 7, 2017, NBC Chicago story which states the number increased by 64 percent from 2000–2014. Contributing factors to this statistic include the state’s two-year budget impasse and rising tuition costs. 

A major source of assistance for students are MAP grants. Without a state budget to fund these, thousands of students are left to find other ways of covering tuition and other fees. A total of 1,654 Columbia students were eligible for the grants during the 2016–2017 academic year, which totaled $6,122,024. For months, students were uncertain whether MAP funds would be disbursed. Relief was finally found in July 2017 when former Gov. Bruce Rauner successfully passed a budget that included $523 million in overdue MAP grant payments to students statewide. 

This budget proposal is a good first step, but we are a long way from solving the challenges schools face. Now that Rauner is no longer in office, it’s important for Gov. Pritzker to continue a commitment to funding education.