Friday, April 22, 2016

Reprieve for Illinois Higher Education

Updated & revised at 4/22 at 9:00 pm following my being pointed to a fuller statement from President Dunn on the impact on SIU. 

Big news: the Illinois General Assembly has approved a stop-gap funding measure for public colleges and universities and MAP grants. Votes were all but unanimous in favor in both houses. Rauner will sign the bill.

Colleges and universities will get about 3o% of what the Democratic budget passed last year and vetoed by Rauner would have given them. MAP funding is at about 40%. CSU, the worst off of the universities, got 60%. And this funding should arrive soon.

A Carbondale Times story quotes Randy Dunn as follows:
“For SIU, this well appreciated stop-gap measure will give us the ability to operate into the remainder of the year without having to enact, at least for the next six months, the draconian layoffs and budget cuts I presented before the Board of Trustees last month. It also allows us to plan for operations with an uncertain level of funding now as well as for next year. It is by no means a final spending plan for this fiscal year — a fact acknowledged by almost every legislator who rose to speak on the bill’s behalf. We thank them for their acknowledgement that there is still work to be done and look forward to continuing our efforts with our campus and state-wide elected officials as they continue to fix this state budget and live up to the covenant the State of Illinois has with its public universities."
So it looks like Dunn is ruling out significant layoffs for the fall semester. That's important good news. Of course if the state doesn't provide a decent FY 17 budget, we may be right back in the same mess, but Dunn seems to think that this stop-gap will see us through the fall.

I'm a bit puzzled as to what Dunn means when he says this stop-gap bill "allows us to plan for operations with an uncertain level of funding now as well as for next year". Just how are you allowed to plan by an uncertain level of funding? I'm also not quite sure what he means by "this fiscal year". Does he really mean to say that almost every legislator who spoke called for more funding for FY 2016? That's seems rather hopeful, from what I've heard, and given that until this week most folks thought we'd get no money at all for FY 2016.

It looks like the sticking point last night (Thursday 4/21)--in addition to egos, deciding who 'wins' from this deal, etc.--was whether the Democratic leadership would hold out for social service funding; this would have led to a Rauner veto, on the ground that no money for social services was available, though the higher education money was at hand, in the form of a Education Assistance Fund that will soon have something like $600 million in its account. Damned if I know what that fund is supposed to be for--perhaps I'll try to figure that out later.

So is the cup 30% full or 70% empty? The 70% empty analysis is this: Rauner wanted education to be cut 31.5%, and he's gotten it cut twice as much. The Democrats have lost the immediate leverage of a powerful middle-class constituency (higher education) and left social services unfunded. That's why Madigan released a rather defiant statement after the vote, when others were more upbeat. Rauner's policy all along has been to avoid the most politically painful possible cuts (e.g. to K-12 funding) while insisting that the Democrats either pass his Turnaround Agenda, or see state government decimated. Either result is a Rauner win. Hey a 70% cut is even better than decimation! (In the Roman army decimation meant you killed "only" one in ten--10%--of a unit that had fought disgracefully).

The 30% full analysis would go something like this: at least we've got something. And the fact that rank & file members of the GA managed to agree on this deal on their own, absent 'guidance' from Madigan and Rauner, shows that there's a possibility for solutions that don't require some grand Rauner-Madigan deal that pretty clearly isn't in the offing.

For the short term, which apparently means the next six months, many of us can breathe a bit easier.  Let us however not forget those who cannot. Consider people working in social services, or people who need social services. And keep in mind that 40% of Logan's tenured faculty (sic) are scheduled to be laid off on May 1st. I don't know if this funding will forestall any of those layoffs, which targeted faculty who were experienced, outspoken, decently paid, or some combination of these things. Logan is an utter mess, run via the worst sort of old-boys nepotism.

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