In a deja-vu move, the Illinois House Democratic majority hastily presented and passed an $818 million “Stop-Gap” budget to provide a “lifeline” to social service agencies and higher education institutions April 6.
The bill would take money from two special accounts funded constantly by income taxes dedicated to education and human services. But the money may come too late for some Illinois public universities, which may be permanently altered after significant program losses due to budget cuts.
Democrats urged an aye vote on the bill, even if it was not a real budget.
“This is money sitting around in bank accounts that we could be spending on agencies that are dying, and helping our universities,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago).
Republicans complained that they had not been invited to help build the plan.
“When we passed the  stopgap budget, it was a bi-partisan effort,” said Steven Andersson (R-Geneva). “This got dropped this week, we didn’t have any input into this.”
“[The bill] gives crumbs to those institutions that rely on us,” said David Harris (R-Arlington Heights). “When someone is starving, which is what’s happening with higher education and social services, that person will accept crumbs. This legislature has a full responsibility to pass a full budget, and we have failed.”
The bill, if passed, would provide $287 million in Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant assistance for low-income students in higher education institutions across the state. It would also provide $36.3 million to Illinois community colleges. The bill also would provide the following funds to public universities:
Chicago State U: $17.3 million
Eastern Illinois U.: $31.9 million
Governor’s State U: $15.9 million
Illinois State U: $47.8 million
North Eastern Illinois U: $24.4 million
Northern Illinois U: $60.3 million
Southern Illinois U: $132.5 million
University of Illinois: $434.7 million
Western Illinois: $38.2 million
The bill still must pass in the Senate and be approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The House and Senate adjourned Thursday for a two-week recess for spring break.
But even if the money comes through for higher education, it may be too little, too late for some public universities balanced on a financial razor’s edge.
At Northeastern Illinois University, Interim President Richard Helldobler announced the cancellation of three days of classes April 11, 12 and May 1 and closed the university campuses to save money.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, my frustration level is at a 22,” Helldobler said in a statement. “Springfield must understand that the lack of funding for higher education is having a negative and permanent impact, specifically on disadvantaged populations in the state. College access is critical for those who seek higher-paying jobs that contribute to a strong economy.”
In March, Helldobler announced unpaid furlough days for staff during spring break and cancelled 300 student jobs.
“The university will complete the spring semester and hold the May commencement ceremony,” Helldobler wrote in a statement. “However, without stopgap funding or an adequate appropriation, we must find ways to stay afloat beyond that.”
The House Democrats bill, passed 64-45 along party lines, echoed the June, 2015 stop-gap legislation, which plugged holes in K-12 school budgets, and gave $1 billion to universities until January 2017, half of the expected state funding of $2 billion.
That legislation was supposed to be an “emergency” measure, and state universities hoped the budget would be on track by now.
Meanwhile, Southern Illinois saw the biggest drop in enrollment in 40 years, especially at the Carbondale campus, said Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn in an interview. Dunn said SIU’s Edwardsville campus had a steady enrollment.
“One of the challenges that we face if making sure we retain the confidence in the public university system in Illinois,” Dunn said in a November video interview.
An employee count obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Daily Egyptian showed SIU lost 422 faculty and staff employees between May 1 and Aug. 18, 2016, dropping from 3,651 to 3,229. Employees were laid off, retired or positions were left vacant.
“This budget impasse sent a message to our parents and students throughout the state that we’re not sure that the state’s going to come up with anything, so maybe I should look elsewhere,” said Illinois State President Larry Dietz in the November interview.
Governors State University laid off more than 60 employees last summer.
At Northern Illinois U. in DeKalb, the university cut 50 academic programs last year, President Doug Baker told a State Senate hearing March 7.
Eastern Illinois University in Charleston laid off 117 EUI employees. Moody’s downgraded EIU’s bond rating to “junk” status, or below investment grade, due to a lack of reserves last June.
“The downgrade is driven by EIU’s increasing vulnerability to the ongoing state budget impasse given its thin liquidity, declining enrollment and high reliance on state funding,” Moody’s said in a statement.
An Illinois State Board of Education analysis of Illinois graduating high school seniors said “of all the graduates from Illinois high schools from 2015 who went to four-year colleges, 45 percent or 18,165 students attended college out-of- state,” according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education January newsletter.
The state is undermining its future by starving higher education, wrote IBHE Director James Appegate in an editorial last fall. “State universities and community colleges need stability. Program cuts and enrollment declines are just the latest indicators of how uncertainty over the state’s funding commitments is threatening the future of higher education in Illinois.”
Applegate announced he was stepping down from the IBHE in January.
— House stop-gap budget could fund Illinois universities until June —