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Pritzker pushes higher ed funding increase in visit to Heartland Community College

Keith Cornille
Eric Stock
Heartland Community College President Keith Cornille spoke Tuesday to a gathering at the college where Gov. JB Pritzker, to his left, pushed for an increased higher education budget.

Gov. JB Pritzker toured Heartland Community College in Normal on Tuesday to push his plan to increase funding for higher education.

The governor's budget plan would increase that funding 10%, and also hike funding for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants by $100 million.

“We are making smart investments now so that Illinois residents can reap the economic rewards they deserve,” Pritzker said at a news conference where he stood with local government and college officials and students.

The proposed MAP grant increase to $701 million would mark a 75% increase from Pritzker’s first state budget in 2019.

Pritzker said every student who applied for a MAP grant this year received one, adding state and federal grants can ensure virtually all community college students at or below the median income will have their tuition and fees fully covered.

He dismissed claims from Republicans that his budget plan will lead to a tax increase.

“I know that when you have nothing else to say, the Republicans just want to complain and project something into the future that they’d like people to believe, but isn’t true,” Pritzker said.

His administration projected less revenue this year, he said, but noted revenue has exceeded projections in previous years. He said the state used that money to reduce its bill backlog and pay down debt to get lower interest rates.

Heartland Community College President Keith Cornille said Pritzker's proposed budget would enable the school to grow existing programs without a need to raise taxes or tuition. It could provide up to $250,000 in additional revenue for the college.

“Heartland is dedicated to taking a proactive role in the creation and enhancement of an equitable, diverse and inclusive community,” said Cornille, pointing out that 70% of Heartland students rely on financial aid and one-quarter of students rely on grants from the state.

Heartland approved a 4.6% tuition increasein February for the upcoming school year.

Pritzker said Heartland has increased enrollment among underserved populations by 13% since 2021. Cornille said the college’s stackable certificates and credentials have helped diversify the student population, along with a $1 million grant received from the Illinois Community College Board to offer more career training for African American, Latinx, and low-income students.

“It’s about getting people jobs then adding onto those credentials for them so they can get a better job and then advance to a career,” said Cornille said, adding Heartland plans to add about a dozen more certificate programs,primarily in health care, technical education and cannabis production and delivery.

Democratic State Sen. Dave Koehler said the governor’s proposed budget for higher education offers hope for employers who need workers by helping community colleges offer more skills training.

“We have the talent and now we have the means to provide for your workforce needs here in Illinois,” Koehler said. “This is a big deal. This help sets the road may for excellence.”

Safe-T Act

On another topic, Pritzker said he expects the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold the state's no-cash-bail law. The governor said he watched some of the oral arguments Tuesday while traveling to Normal.

Chris Koos and JB Pritzker
Eric Stock
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, left, speaks with Gov. JB Pritzker following a news conference at Heartland Community College.

“It’s clear to me that there’s one side that has the much better argument on the SAFE-T Act and I think that will prevail,” he said.

Opponents of the SAFE-T Act say the law is unconstitutional, partly because it violates the separation of powers, and that lawmakers should not be able to tell judges they can't set bail.

The Supreme Court put the law on hold earlier this year until it could hear the case.

Pritzker said he's willing to discuss says to help county sheriffs who are concerned ending cash bail will cost them revenue.

“I think that’s a not unreasonable thing for us all to be discussing going forward, but that’s not a reason to oppose the SAFE-T Act,” he said.

Abortion pills

Pritzker joined 14 other governors on Tuesday in urging major pharmacy chains to clarify whether they plan to sell abortion medications. Pritzker said Walgreens caved to public pressure in states where Republican officials want to limit abortion access.

“The other major pharmacy companies have not announced what they are doing, and it’s clear to me that they, too, are capitulating to the threat by 21 attorneys general around the nation. That’s not acceptable,” Pritzker said.

The letter was sent to executives at CVC, Walmart, Kroger, Target and other retailers.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.