Quinn uses veto pen on legislative scholarships

August 10, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Even if the program is killed, there is a lot more money where that came from.

For decades in Illinois, about a quarter of all state university students have been attending school for free thanks to a smorgasbord of what is known as tuition waivers.

The program that has allowed elected members of the state house and senate to dole out a few scholarships each year to children of constituents is just one of them.

Under the general assembly's free tuition giveaway, legislators have been allowed to award two full-ride four-year scholarships each year. Some legislators split up the waivers and hand out eight one-year scholarships instead.

However, there is little oversight, and on Wednesday, Quinn vetoed legislation, and he hopes that the freebies will be killed.

"The bill was designed to reform the system, but I think you can't put perfume on a skunk," said Quinn. "The system has had too many problems for too many years, and it's time to abolish the legislative scholarship program and go forward with a better program."

According to state figures obtained by the I-Team, more than 47,000 students in Illinois received some kind of tuition waiver last year, totaling $390 million in free tuition.

State legislative scholarships are just a small portion of the mandatory and discretionary handouts.

Not all of the free tuition on state college campuses is as controversial as the program that allows political giveaways by state legislators.

In terms of mandated free tuition, other than the general assembly, there are campus military ROTC tuition programs and several dozen Department of Children and Family Services scholarships, some free tuition for senior citizens, honorary scholarships, and children of state university employees, who are entitled to a 50 percent discount. That costs universities nearly as much as the legislative program every year.

Then there are the discretionary tuition waivers to faculty and other staff at state colleges, university and civil service employees and free tuition for academic and other student talents, as well as athletic, gender equity/athletics, foreign students and out-of-state students.

Quinn said that during a recent five-year period, more than 100 college scholarships were given by some members of the general assembly to their political contributors.

At least one case involving a former member of the general assembly - Robert Molaro - has attracted the attention of federal prosecutors, who have subpoenaed tuition waiver records from the state.

2010 data on Illinois tuition waivers

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