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On Hold

Like many aspiring teachers, Matt Mattingly traces his career choice to his own experiences as a student, in particular his memories of a 7th grade instructor in Paris, Ill., who inspired him and his classmates.

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty training he will need to commandeer a class of his own, the college freshman is reliant on a different source: the state’s Golden Apple Scholars program.

The student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill., is one of about 380 undergraduate and high school students who receive annual college scholarships and stipends through the state-financed program each year. That funding, however, could soon end: Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has proposed zeroing out the Golden Apple initiative’s $3.7 million allocation in his budget for fiscal 2005.

While it is not clear what the legislature will do, Mr. Mattingly says that if the cuts take effect, he will pursue other sources of state and federal financial aid (he already receives a federal Pell Grant), many of them loans that would have to be paid back. He says it may take him as long as six years to finish his studies at Eastern Illinois, where he majors in history and is seeking teacher certification, if he has more difficulty paying his costs.

"I’m not sure what I’ll do," the 18-year-old says, "but I’ll have to pull up the slack."

Launched in 1988 and taken statewide in 1993, the scholars program is run by the nonprofit, Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation, which is devoted to improving the teaching profession. Illinois high school students are chosen on a competitive basis. The winners receive yearly scholarships worth $5,000, and $2,000 to attend summer training for four years.

In return, they commit to teaching for five years in disadvantaged and predominantly minority Illinois schools. As many as 800 students have benefited from the program over the years, Golden Apple officials say.

But painful cuts were unavoidable, said Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for the governor. Illinois faces a $1.7 billion deficit in a total budget of about $22 billion.

She noted that the Democratic governor has committed to maintaining other state-run teacher-scholarship programs, such as the Illinois Future Teacher Corps, which is slated to receive level funding at $7 million in fiscal 2005.

"It’s not that we’re eliminating all the options," Ms. Rausch said. "It’s a time of tough fiscal choices."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 30, Page 18

Published in Print: April 7, 2004, as State Journal

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