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Legislative Update
By Leo Welch

The 96th Illinois General Assembly that adjourned on January 12, 2011, will be noted for passing an income tax increase through 2015 raising rates from 3% to 5% for individuals and from 4.8% to 7% for corporations. The vote was strictly along party lines with the Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House supporting the tax increase and the Democratic governor Pat Quinn signing the bill, Public Act 96-1496.
With the inauguration of the 97th General Assembly, there has been a flurry of bills introduced. As of the February 10th deadline for the Senate and a February 24th deadline for the House, an estimated 6,000 specific bills were introduced together with 400 additional “shell bills” that could be utilized at a later date for almost anything. Bills of interest to higher education faculty are:

House Bill 1503 (Rep. Chapin Rose) would require the Illinois Board of Higher Education to incorporate performance-based funding into its annual budget request to the General Assembly, beginning with fiscal 2013, as recommended by the Higher Education Finance Study Commission.

Under this proposed bill, funding would be determined partly by graduation rates and retention rates at all public universities and public community colleges. Since community colleges by law have open admissions and public universities each have different admission requirements, it remains to be seen what types of formula will be developed to determine the level of “performance” funding.

Many other questions remain unanswered. Will historically poor-performing institutions like Chicago State University and the City Colleges of Chicago be financially penalized while selective institutions such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are rewarded? Will there be increasing pressure on faculty to retain poor-performing students to maintain or increase funding? Will grade inflation take a dramatic jump? Will academic integrity be compromised? None of these questions will be answered until after the bill is passed, signed into law, and implemented. Because of the bipartisan support for this bill, it is expected to pass.
Senate Bill 135 (Sen. Martin Sandoval) would remove the power of the boards of trustees at community colleges and public universities to set tuition and fee rates, and give the authority to the legislature. Another Sandoval bill (SB 114) would freeze tuition and fees for the next two years at the rates in place for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Illinois has 12 public universities and 48 public community colleges, and yet Sandoval appears to think that the legislature has a better grasp of budgetary issues than local boards of trustees. The community college trustees, who are elected from their respective districts, have a state-wide organization, the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, that wields significant political clout. Since public university trustees are appointed by the governor and have no state-wide organization, the university presidents will have to voice opposition to these two bills. There is expected to be strong opposition to both bills.
House Bill 146 (Rep. Jack Franks) would set a ceiling of $106,800 of earnings that would be used to calculate pension benefits for retired state employees. This bill would certainly impact the recruitment and retention of some faculty and administrators. $106,800 would not even be considered an adequate starting salary in medical or law schools as well as in many other positions. This bill is just one of many legislative attacks on public pensions. I expect more bills of this nature that might impact current and/or retired employees.
Senate Bill 59 (Sen. Ira Silverstein) would create the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act to require that a community college graduate with an associate’s degree is eligible to transfer into a public university baccalaureate program with a minimum of 60 credit hours earned with at least a grade point average of 2.0. In addition, public universities must give priority admission to a local community college graduate into a major that is similar to the student’s major or field of emphasis at the community college.

This is the first attempt to legislate transferability of community college graduates into a public university. This bill may reflect the failure of the Illinois Articulation Initiative, which allows transfer of courses on a course-by-course basis by agreement between participating institutions.

House Bill 152 (Rep. Monique Davis) would create a new Department of Education that would have oversight of the Illinois State Board of Education, the Board of Higher Education, and the Illinois Community College Board. The motivation for adding another board to all the other education boards is unclear. At this time the bill appears to have little support since no other legislator has signed on as a co-sponsor.

Outside of Illinois we see attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and other states. Republican-dominated legislatures want to abolish rights of public employees to collectively bargain claiming budgetary reasons. Make no mistake. These attacks are political not financial. Similar attempts in the Illinois General Assembly labeled “educational reform” measures bear close attention. These so-called “educational reform” bills would gut most of the collective bargaining rights of K-12 employees. If these “reforms” are implemented by legislation, why assume that higher education collective bargaining rights would remain intact?
This is becoming a perfect storm of attacks on pensions, collective bargaining rights, tenure, state appropriations, governance, health benefits, and sabbaticals--all factors that contributed to a higher education system that at one time was rated number one. When did higher education stop becoming a public good?

Leo Welch
AAUP Illinois Conference Legislative Liaison
Legislative bill abstracts from the Illinois Board of Higher Education