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updated: 3/21/2012 4:54 PM

House votes to end legislative scholarships

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  • Fred Crespo

    Fred Crespo

Ryan Voyles

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House once again voted Wednesday to eliminate a controversial program that lets legislators hand out scholarships to their constituents and costs universities millions.

The proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, and other suburban lawmakers was approved by a 79-25 vote, sending it to the Senate for further debate.

The scholarship program has drawn fire in recent years following reports that the awards sometimes go to politically connected people.

The plan would end the program, which requires Illinois' public universities to waive tuition for scholarship recipients chosen by lawmakers. The program cost the universities $13.9 million in the 2009-2010 school year.

"We read about people misusing it ... and at some point, it has to stop," Crespo said.

Suburban lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan. State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora voted present.

Some supporters said the scholarship program should be abolished even though it is well-intentioned because of the perception of corruption.

"The overwhelming majority of us award the scholarships correctly, but the program itself has brought this body into disrepute," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.

Other supporters see the program as just one of the problems in higher education.

"There's a whole lot of problems out there outside this plan," said Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican, pointing to the costs of male athletic scholarships and college coaching salaries as among the problems.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont plans to sponsor Crespo's plan in the Senate. But spokeswoman Patty Schuh said she worries it'll be stymied there as similar plans have been.

About 40 percent of the state's 177 lawmakers no longer give scholarships. Plans to reform the program have been vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn in the past two years, as the governor wants the program abolished.

Supporters of the scholarships said they use it to help constituents unable to afford a higher education, and it would set a bad precedent to eliminate a program because of some abuses.

"I believe we have corruption in the governor's office, but we did not eliminate that office," said Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat.

Crespo said there are other areas to look to help students afford education, such as the MAP grants, and it is necessary to eliminate a program with a fundamental flaw.

"There's no money here," Crespo said. "That $13 million may not seem a lot, but those costs have to be put on other students."

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