Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quinn shoots down scholarship reforms

By Rachel Wells

Reforms aren't enough, Gov. Pat Quinn said today in a message vetoing changes to the General Assembly's scholarship program, which some lawmakers allegedly have used to reward political supporters.

The program, which cost state universities roughly $13.5 million last year, allows each lawmaker to award two four-year tuition waivers every year to students in his or her district.

Senate Bill 365 would have allowed lawmakers to continue awarding the waivers, but would limit them from giving them to anyone whose family members had contributed to the lawmaker’s campaign within five years of the award, among other changes.

Quinn said he would like the legislature to instead look at House Bill 4685, which would eliminate the program. Opponents of the waivers also complain that they place more strain on already underfunded university budgets.

“This bill fails to adopt the fundamental reforms that are necessary to bring transparency, competition and fairness to the General Assembly scholarship program,” Quinn said in a veto statement. “A program that relies on the favor of a legislator rather than the merit of an applicant is not a program I can endorse.”

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for the bill’s sponsor, Senate President John Cullerton, said Cullerton would discuss the issue with his caucus before the legislature's fall veto session. “Right now the focus needs to stay on the budget,” she said. In passing the measure this spring, Cullerton’s position was that “there’s no need to throw the student out with the bathwater,” Phelon said.

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