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Illinois Prepares to Put Kibosh on Controversial Scholarship Program

Stephanie Saul's long exploration of tax-credit scholarship programs today in The New York Times has generated the amount of reaction you would expect in the education community, and you should check out my colleague Sean Cavanagh's blog post on it for more details.

Meanwhile, another scholarship program has made headlines, although it appears to be moving in reverse gear. The Illinois House voted on May 21 to ban tuition-waiver scholarships and sent the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, for his signature. These "legislative scholarships" allowed each member of the state's General Assembly to nominate up to four students in his or her district to receive scholarships of varying length to 10 state-supported public universities, including the University of Illinois.

But as the Chicago Tribune details, critics said the scholarships were ways for elected officials to award scholarships to convenient individuals, such as the children of relatives or campaign contributors. Strangely, the scholarships remained in place, until the House took action by approving the ban in legislation from Rep. Fred Crespo, in a 79-32 vote.

The Better Government Association has devoted a web page to the corrupt use of the scholarships, using examples from other news organizations to argue that they should be axed. Recent beneficiaries of the scholarships, as identified by the association, included the children of an alderman and a lobbyist.

Quinn announced with apparent relish that he would sign the legislation, saying it was a "good day" when lawmakers passed the ban, and that such scholarships should only go to worthy students in financial need. Rep. Ken Dunkin argued a point that in strictly factual terms appeared accurate: Many students would lose scholarship opportunities if the program disappeared. But Quinn appears to put more stock in the ways these scholarships were actually used in several cases, instead of how they might have been used more fairly.

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