By Stephanie Fryer
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House voted Monday to abolish a century-old legislative scholarship program blighted by lawmaker abuse.
The bill killing the General Assembly Legislative Scholarship Program, which allowed lawmakers to give full scholarships for state universities to students, as long as the students lived in the awarding lawmaker's district, now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn's signature
"There is no place for a political scholarship program in Illinois. As I have repeatedly advocated — scholarships, paid for by Illinois taxpayers — should be awarded only to those with merit who are in true financial need," Quinn said in an emailed statement. "Abolishing this program is the right thing to do."
The House voted 79-32 to end the program.
The program became the subject of scrutiny after investigations by government watchdogs showed numerous lawmakers awarded scholarships to people who did not live within the boundaries of the lawmakers' districts. No rules forbid lawmakers from giving scholarships to children of campaign donors or staff members.
"I don't think we are here to bestow special privileges on the anointed few we decide should get them. I think that every kid should be able to go to college, not just the ones we choose," said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, who supports ending the program.
Legislators who opposed ending the program said cutting it was a disservice to students who rely on the waivers to afford college.
"This is a red herring of the worst type. This bill is a sham," state Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, said.
House Bill 3810 also sets up a task force to investigate all university waivers, which total $365 million, distributed statewide each year.
According to published reports, Illinois' legislative scholarship program was established in 1909 and enabled the state's 177 lawmakers to give tuition waivers to as many as eight students each year for any state public university.
By Stephanie Fryer