General Assembly Scholarship
For 52 years the Illinois General Assembly has provided thousands of scholarships to deserving students. In Illinois, each member of the General Assembly can nominate 2 students every year from their district to receive a scholarship to any State University. This past fall, legislation was introduced to get rid of this program entirely. Today, July 11, 2012 the Governor signed the law into effect and the General Assembly Scholarship program was eliminated immediately.
The G.A. Scholarship Program has helped countless students in Illinois pursue their dreams of a higher education. The program began with a purpose: to make college a reality for hard-working but financially strained students. As a legislator, I have seen first-hand, the impact the program has had in my community.
The G.A. Scholarship was meant to help; however, because it lacked any uniform standards for integrity, it was set up for corruption.
Recent news reports have indicated the programs’ downfall. Investigations uncovered a number of times where the General Assembly Scholarships were granted to ineligible family members, campaign contributors and students outside of the legislative district. Also, legislators like state Rep. Derrick Smith abused the program and awarded $185,000 worth of tuition waivers to possibly ineligible applicants even after he was recently indicted for a federal bribery charge. The scholarship program also places an unfunded mandate on Illinois Universities who absorb the cost of tuition, even though the state already owes them tens of millions of dollars in overdue bills. These examples demonstrate that from the beginning, the G.A. Scholarship program required more structure.
In 2010, the Senate attempted to reform the program by introducing Senate Bill 365. This legislation proposed numerous changes to the current way of awarding scholarships by adding stricter guidelines. On May 11th, 2010 Senate Bill 365 was issued a total veto by the governor after it had passed both houses. Following the veto, the governor continued to push the G.A. to completely remove the scholarship program. This veto removed the chance for legislators to reform the program.
Some legislators are careless with how they award their General Assembly Scholarships. On the other hand, I know that this program is vital to Illinois students and because of that; I have worked hard to stay above reproach when awarding these scholarships. My scholarship application process requires students to write specific essays and fill out qualifying information that is submitted to a scholarship committee. In addition, any identifiers like a student’s name are marked-out so they are strictly scored on their accomplishments alone. This is my way of holding the program to a higher standard so the most deserving students continue to get assistance. I had hoped that my fellow legislators would do the same.
The General Assembly scholarship program provided some students with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, and while it saddens me to know that future students will suffer because of the poor decisions made by those who chose to abuse the system I agree the program needed to be eliminated.