Dems vying for governor outline views on college funding at UI forum

Dems vying for governor outline views on college funding at UI forum

URBANA — Four of the five Democratic candidates for governor are all offering different visions for making college more affordable in Illinois.

They outlined their ideas Monday night at Gregory Hall in a forum sponsored by Illini Democrats. The event was billed as the only such forum so far organized by college students.

Former University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy of Chicago said he is against cutting budgets for the UI and other universities.

"We're not going to make these universities more affordable, and we're not going to put more kids from our own state through our own colleges if we slash university budgets," said Kennedy, the son of former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. "One great thing is to move away from merit-based scholarships and to focus on need-based scholarships."

State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston said Illinois has a student-debt and tuition crisis.

"Look at the cost of college and look at the debt that so many people in this room have and how that debt affects life choices," said Biss, a former assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago. "We made a decision 100 years ago in society that you need an elementary and secondary education to be competitive. So we made free access to universal public elementary and secondary education. Of course, tuition should be free. It is time for free college."

Tio Hardiman of Chicago, former director of the anti-violence organization CeaseFire Illinois, said he supports a progressive tax and business transaction tax to bring in new revenue to help support education.

"We plan to use some of those funds to make college tuition free," said Hardiman, who reminded his audience nine times that his running mate is Patricia Avery, who left her role as longtime president of NAACP Champaign County to focus on running for lieutenant governor. "College tuition should be free up to the bachelor's degree level."

Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber said the state needs to prioritize funding for higher education.

"I paid my share of college tuition, and I know how expensive it is." said Daiber, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University. "To make it affordable for students, we have to restructure the financial system by which students acquire their debt. Higher ed is an economic stimulus for the state in every university town. I don't care if it is Champaign, Charleston, Macomb, Carbondale, Edwardsville or Chicago."

The candidates also offered their ideas to provide good employment for students who graduate from Illinois colleges and universities.

"If we give the world highly educated kids, the world will give us its jobs," Kennedy said.

He said people who graduate from the University of Illinois should have a job in Illinois, but the federal system is sending funding out of Illinois and to other states, and large companies have opened up factories, distribution centers and headquarters elsewhere.

"We are being robbed blind by the Southern states," Kennedy said. "We're a donor state. Every year, we lose out at the federal level, and it is sucking our state dry. It's not right. We need to bring money back to Illinois."

Biss said that, for the first time, most people in their 30s in Illinois are doing worse economically than their parents did at that age.

"There weren't such great job opportunities for Illinois graduates in 2014, before Bruce Rauner became governor," Biss said. "Let's be honest about the fact the young generation right now is the most educated generation in our country's history and is struggling in unprecedented ways."

He said the problem is concentration of wealth and power, something he said could be fixed by fair taxation.

"We want a government that is shared," Biss said. "We want prosperity for everybody, and it is doable."

Hardiman said he will set up a job-creation task force to make sure college graduates get employed in high-level companies.

"The state of Illinois is being mismanaged by that tyrant millionaire — Bruce Rauner," Hardiman said.

Daiber said Illinois needs a marketing plan to bring jobs to the state.

"We don't sell Illinois for its riches. We don't market the greatness of this," Daiber said. "Business doesn't just happen. It needs to be created."

A fifth candidate, front-runner J.B. Pritzker, was invited to participate but did not attend the forum.

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pattsi wrote on November 07, 2017 at 9:11 pm

Based on the article, not one candidate described how to move toward accomplishing what was pontificated--progressive income tax, change the funding mechanisms for higher education, reprioritize state spending, etc. Easy to talk, much harder to walk.