Holdovers; The back door

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Illinois lawmakers have brought new meaning to the expression "old money."

A 1905 law allows each legislator to dole out one four-year scholarship to the University of Illinois each year, and another scholarship to any of the state's other public colleges and universities, to any resident in his legislative district. The lawmakers award more than $4 million a year in tuition waivers.

The law sets no time limits, and the scholarships can accumulate. When a lawmaker leaves office, unused awards can be made by his successor.

The News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign-Urbana recently found that 228 scholarships awarded at Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University between 1989 and 1995 were holdovers, and half of them originally became available before 1987. A third dated to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

And inflation takes its toll. For example, a 20-year-old scholarship granted three years ago had increased in value by 340 percent, since tuition at Eastern Illinois University climbed from $420 in 1973 to $1,848 in 1993, according to the newspaper.

Besides being nonperishable, the scholarships are also flexible. If a recipient drops out, the remainder of his four-year scholarship can go to someone else years later.

The Oklahoma House's education committee has killed at least three school-choice measures in the past month alone. But choice supporters there are persistent.

A measure that would remove districts' current veto power over students' requests to transfer was added to a larger education bill by the full House on March 12 on a 52-49 vote. It now goes to the Senate, which traditionally has been kinder to choice legislation than the lower house is.

The provision would require only consent from the receiving district, and would allow, but not require, the receiving district to provide transportation for transfer students.

Opponents fear that transfers would increase from the current level of about 28,000 a year, costing some districts a significant amount of state aid, causing transportation problems, and prompting "white flight" from districts now busing students under desegregation orders.

But the measure's sponsor, Rep. Dwayne Steidley, a Democrat who said he opposes public tuition aid for private school students, predicted that the vast majority of students would not opt to transfer.

--Lynn Schnaiberg
& Millicent Lawton

Vol. 15, Issue 27

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