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posted: 5/25/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: Why are suburban community colleges shut out on grants?

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  • State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, shown here at a February forum at the Wheaton Park District Community Center, thinks the process for allotting veterans funds to community colleges "looks awfully political."

       State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, shown here at a February forum at the Wheaton Park District Community Center, thinks the process for allotting veterans funds to community colleges "looks awfully political."
    Jessica Cilella | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

There probably are few subjects where there is more universal agreement than the general support for our military veterans.

Almost all of us try to respect and honor their service and sacrifice. Go to a ballgame where a veteran is invited onto the field for recognition, and the standing ovation is enthusiastic and genuine.

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This reverence is particularly true this holiday weekend, when we pause to honor the memories of those who have fallen in service to the country.

So with that as a backdrop, few would challenge the intent of a legislative mandate that requires community colleges to waive tuition for veterans.

What many of us would question, however, is the state's failure, here as in so many other areas, to put its money where its good intentions are. The legislature says community colleges should provide this education, but it doesn't compensate them for the expense of doing it.

Well, we should say, the state doesn't necessarily compensate the community colleges for this expense. Because in some cases, the state disperses grant money to subsidize at least some of that education.

But our state legislature being our state legislature, it doesn't do this fairly or openly or without, at the very least, the appearance of political cronyism or favoritism.

As the Illinois News Network reported earlier this month, a House appropriations bill would award $1.25 million in veterans grants to the state's community colleges, but only 18 of the 43 community colleges in Illinois would receive them.

None of the community colleges in area suburbs would see a dime.

Not College of DuPage, not College of Lake County, not Elgin Community College, not Harper College, not McHenry Community College, not Oakton Community College, not Waubonsee Community College. None of them. Not a single cent.

"I'm just wondering how you get on that list," state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said in the News Network report. "We are getting no compensation for our veterans and yet 18 colleges are. So who made the list? ... To me, this looks awfully political."

No one really knows how you get on that list. It's compiled like so much in Springfield behind closed doors. State Rep. Ken Dunkin, who chairs the Illinois House Education Appropriations Committee, acknowledged in the News Network report that he had a role in splitting up the money but said he couldn't remember what the rationale was.

"Whatever amount of dollars is available should be equitably divided among all institutions that have awarded waivers because of the state grant," said Robert Breuder, president of COD, which spent $666,803 on those waivers a year ago. "No one institution deserves better treatment than another."

We agree with Breuder's rationale.

We believe even more that whatever rationale is used, the decision-making should be conducted transparently and in the open.

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