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Senate Week in Review: September 25-29, 2017

After being held by its sponsor for more than four months, a controversial abortion bill expanding taxpayer funding for abortions advanced to the Governor’s desk, and was signed into law on September 28.

Also during the week, Republican lawmakers introduced changes to Illinois’ higher education system designed to increase enrollment and keep students in state.  Another recently signed law will increase educational access for adults.

Controversial abortion funding now law

On September 28, the Governor signed a highly contentious bill expanding taxpayer funding for abortions.  House Bill 40 was recently released from a legislative hold placed on the measure back in May, and sent to the Governor’s desk.

House Bill 40 allows for the use of tax dollars to fund abortions for any reason, including purely elective procedures.  I did not vote for this legislation and am extremely disappointed that it has been signed into law.

Prior to the signing of House Bill 40, Medicaid coverage of abortions in Illinois already included cases involving:
•    Saving the life of the mother
•    Protecting the health of the mother
•    Rape or incest

House Bill 40’s expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions in Illinois, which already exceeds federal guidelines, moves Illinois beyond the position of 47 other states by expanding taxpayer funding for purely elective procedures.  Illinois simply does not have money for a new spending program like this, especially when so many people are opposed on moral grounds.

Reforming higher education

On September 25, Republican lawmakers started what they intend to be a thoughtful and bipartisan conversation about reforming the state’s higher education system, with the introduction of Senate Bill 2234.

The goals of the Higher Education Strategic Centers of Excellence Plan are to address the increasing number of Illinois students attending college outside Illinois, make the state’s higher education system more efficient, and save taxpayer dollars by directing resources to the strengths of each institution.  The plan was proposed in direct response to Illinois’ continued history of higher education enrollment decline, which dropped by 50,000 students between 1991 and 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The proposal’s strategy relies on changes to the admissions process in Illinois that would help boost enrollment at the 12 public universities in Illinois.  The plan would create a uniform admission application to be accepted at all public institutions of higher education.  The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) would then forward that student’s common application to other public universities whose acceptance standards are in line with the student’s qualifications and who have programs and areas of study in which the student wishes to enroll.  The plan would also have the IBHE create an economic efficiency review of each campus and rank the top eight academic departments/programs statewide, and study academic program expansions, eliminations, and programs with low enrollment.

Educational access for adults, bring successful diploma programs

A new law was signed recently that will enable adults who did not finish high school to acquire high school diplomas.  The law also allows for the creation of quality adult diploma programs.  The new law allows adults of any age to take advantage of certified programs in order to earn a high school diploma.  Currently, those older than age of 21 who did not finish high school cannot receive a high school diploma; a GED is the only option available to adult learners seeking to obtain high school equivalency.  A high school diploma is more advantageous than a GED because it equips adults with better skills for postsecondary education and the workplace.

Provisions in House Bill 2527 also pave the way for the creation of Excel Centers, like the Goodwill Excel Center opening in Rockford.  Modeled after a successful program in Indiana, Excel Centers allow adult learners to not only earn high school diplomas, but offers the option of career and technical education classes and dual-enrollment credits.  Graduates of Excel Centers have been shown to earn much higher wages than those without a high school diploma.  An estimated 1 million Illinoisans lack a high school diploma or GED.

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