Senator discusses education funding

By Eric Krol

A state senator with NIU ties painted a bleak picture for future higher education funding during a Friday campus visit.

Sen. Jack Schaffer, R-Crystal Lake, toured the NIU campus with his wife, Mary Ann Louderback, executive assistant to Gov. Jim Edgar for education.

The duo, accompanied by Ken Beasley, NIU assistant for government relations, spoke with NIU political science and education classes as well as campus groups such as the Student Association.

During an interview at The Northern Star, Schaffer, an NIU alumnus, discussed funding of higher education. “It’s hard to be optimistic about next year,” he said.

Schaffer said there is already a $300 million hole in next year’s state budget due to an increase in the cost of health care programs.

The “lion’s share” of the money to make up the health care increase will come from cuts in other programs, he said.

As for a funding increase through tax dollars, Schaffer said, “I don’t think the public would sit still for a tax increase.”

Schaffer said he expects some growth in state revenue but added, “It’s not going to be a phenomenal year.”

Although funding for higher education remained level this year, partly due to Edgar’s pledge of avoiding education spending cuts, Louderback said she was unsure if the same promise could be made this year.

She said Edgar remained hopeful education funding would not receive the ax, but admitted that Edgar’s office was still trying to avoid future cuts in this year’s budget.

Schaffer also said he agreed with a recent letter from Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) Chairman Arthur Quern which called for the prioritization of needs at state universities because increased state funding is unlikely.

Schaffer said the universities should examine their missions. Research is important but you need to educate students first, he said.

Louderback said Edgar believes in Quern’s statement of prioritizing as well. She said some institutions “were taken aback” by the letter, but each school must “take a stab” at increasing productivity through setting program priorities.

As for the status of NIU’s Rockford Graduate Studies Center, Louderback said she expects a vote from an Edgar committee on capital development projects sometime this month.

“You can delineate from that whatever you want,” she said.