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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Illinois Higher-Ed Flat Funded & MAP Grants Increased $28 Million In Pending Budget

Northern Illinois University

Illinois lawmakers have approved a $42 billion budget that now awaits Governor J.B. Pritzker’s pen.

State Representative Jeff Keicher, a Sycamore Republican, says the state’s revenues over the past few months have been much greater than projections. He says the state saw nearly a billion dollars more tax revenue than expected. It also received over $8 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“If we had been talking last May, that we thought the dire situation we saw in May of 2020 was going to resolve itself and Illinois would be bringing in more cash than we had anticipated in our revenue stream would have been laughable,” he said. “But here we are.”

Rep. Keicher is also the spokesperson for the House Higher-Ed Appropriations Committee.

The proposed budget includes $1.9 billion for higher education, the same rate as last year. The State Board of Education initially proposed a $50 million increase to MAP grants, but that was reduced in the governor’s budget to a $28 million boost. The increase comes after a year of flat funding.

Illinois colleges and universities were prepared for sharp cuts after Gov. Pritzker last fall predicted potential 5-10% cutsacross the board, including in education.

The pending spending plan also includes $350 million more for K-12 education. The governor had pledged to increase funding by at least that much per year but did not in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Keicher says the budget process was not as bipartisan as he’d hoped, despite changeups to leadership, including the departure of former Speaker Mike Madigan.

“I would say no, and that is, perhaps, one of my biggest disappointments,” said the representative.

Some Republicans criticized the budgetbeing dropped at 11:30 p.m., just before the midnight deadline, saying it was impossible to read in time. But, Democrats countered that they’ve had months to negotiate in appropriations committees.

Northern Illinois President Lisa Freeman voiced support for the budget. She praised Pritzker for being “a strong proponent of higher education.”