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Simon welcomes new JALC president, calls for budget reform to protect education funding 

 
CARTERVILLE – May 24, 2012. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon welcomed incoming John A. Logan College President Mike Dreith on Thursday and urged lawmakers to make pension and Medicaid reforms that will protect higher education funding.

Without major changes, health care for the poor and retirement benefits for public employees will continue to eat up more of the state’s general revenue dollars, squeezing out funding for education, law enforcement and other expenses, Simon said prior to a public reception for Dreith alongside retiring JALC President Bob Mees.

“Runaway Medicaid and pension costs could squeeze out education funding if major reforms are not enacted this spring,” said Simon, who serves as Governor Quinn’s point person on education reform. “When President Dreith takes over on July 1, we want John A. Logan College to know its state dollars will be paid on time and in full so its students receive the best education possible.”

Fast-growing public pension and Medicaid costs could eat up 50 percent of state general revenue spending in FY2014 without major reforms. That could limit the state’s ability to fund education and public safety, threaten the state’s credit rating and hurt the long-term sustainability of the health care and retirement systems, Simon said. On Monday, legislation supported by Governor Quinn was filed to restructure Illinois’ Medicaid system.

“The state’s budget crisis must be resolved, with input from educators across the state, to maintain and improve the quality of higher education in Illinois,” said Mees, who will retire from the JALC presidency on June 30.

Students who qualify for state tuition assistance, whether they pay to study microbiology or welding, could also feel the squeeze, Simon said. In the past decade, the buying power of the state's Monetary Award Program (MAP) has fallen from covering the full tuition and fees at public community colleges and universities, to covering about half. For every student who received partial assistance from MAP this year, another qualified applicant was denied due to lack of funds.

“We need to invest in students and schools if we expect to reach our state's big goal: 60 percent of our working-age adults holding a degree or certificate by 2025,” Simon said. “It’s time to put politics aside and work together on budget reforms that will put Illinois on solid financial footing for years to come.”