Sixty-one members of the Illinois General Assembly broke the law over the course of six years by awarding free tuition to the state’s public universities to 121 college students who didn’t live in the right legislative district.
The state lawmakers – several of whom serve in leadership positions – violated the law they had passed in the 1970s, the last time major changes were made to the century-old legislative scholarship program. Controversy over the program flared again this past year after a series of articles by ChicagoTalks that found repeated instances of scholarships being awarded to campaign donors, politically connected families and, in at least one instance, a lawmaker’s relative. ChicagoTalks also identified five legislators who require scholarship applicants to register to vote, a practice one constitutional lawyer called illegal.
More recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that a former state lawmaker gave nearly $100,000 in scholarships to the family of a longtime political supporter, raising questions about the loose enforcement of eligibility requirements.
Lawmakers doled out more than 6,000 scholarships totaling tens of millions of dollars from fall 2003 through summer 2008. ChicagoTalks checked the addresses of every student who received one or more of these awards by entering each into the Illinois Board of Elections’ district locator to confirm the student did in fact reside in that lawmaker’s district.
No state agency does these checks, although the Illinois Board of Education gathers basic information about each scholarship winner from lawmakers and keeps it in a database.
Matt Vanover, director of public information for the Board of Education, says that making sure a student lives in a lawmaker’s district is the responsibility of both the student and the lawmaker, not his agency. Until recently, no one at the state agency verified that students actually live in the right district.
Vanover said he is changing this policy in response to the Tribune’s recent article. He said along with processing the paperwork, the Board of Education will now verify recipients’ addresses. If the person checking addresses notices a student receiving an out-of-district scholarship, the lawmaker will be notified and responsible for correcting the mistake.
ChicagoTalks contacted the offices of all 61 lawmakers. Those legislators or staff who responded to interview requests confirmed they made mistakes and offered explanations like an aide for Rep. Karen May (D -Highland Park) did, saying the student received the scholarship because his application had been delivered by a guidance counselor from a school that was located in the district.
The student moved to a different district, but because he had started the school year at Highland Park he was able to finish the school year there. Since his application came from a school in the district, they assumed he lived in the district as well.
An aide to Sen. Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) said she assumed the senator had all of Rochester in his district, but now realizes that a portion is in another senatorial district.
“I look all of them up, and these two fell through the cracks,” said Lori Bottrell.
Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) said the five students who received scholarships outside of her district were overlooked because they lived on the borders.
“It’s an embarrassing situation, but sometimes those things happens,” said Althoff.
The senator also said that 2010 would be the last year she awards scholarships until the state’s fiscal condition improves. Althoff will be joining at least 14 other lawmakers, which ChicagoTalks found last fall, who do not participate in the program.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) sponsored legislation earlier this year that would place some restrictions on the scholarships. But in May, Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed his proposal, saying the program should be eliminated instead.
Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago) and Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) both said they were going to start doubling checking addresses with the Illinois State Board of Elections to assure the winners they choose do in fact live in their districts.
Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) acknowledged giving scholarships outside of his district. He said he gives the unused summer school portions of the scholarship to educators who teach in his district but may not necessarily live there.
“We need to support the enrichment of our teachers,” said Ford.
He said he only gives scholarships to teachers who are committed to his district and believes the waivers would go to waste otherwise.
ChicagoTalks also tried contacting all of the students who received out of district scholarships. Only a handful of the students responded.
Most of the students willing to talk were unaware they applied and received a scholarship out of district. But, one recipient, Jasmine Lindsay, said Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) gave her the scholarship even though she knew Lindsay didn’t live in district. Lindsay said the representative told her father that students in her district were not taking advantage of the program.
“Annazette wasn’t getting reached out to so she reached out to me,” said Lindsay.
Lindsay said her father had interacted with the lawmaker a few times before she was told of and received the scholarship.
Collins was one of thirty-one lawmakers who were found to have given scholarships outside their districts, but she did not respond to inquiries from ChicagoTalks.
Several lawmakers said they had checked to make sure their winners lived in the right district and when told they did not, blamed the problem on the Board of Elections’ district locator. They said they instead used their local election authority, which in most cases is the county clerk, to confirm students lived in their district.
Eric Donnewald, director of division training and resource development for the Board of Elections, said the map used for district locator is the same map created and approved by state lawmakers. He said there is a possibility that the software could have trouble placing students who lived on a district’s borders, and that local election authority should have the final say since they code voters.
All 13 instances of this happening were removed from the final number of out of district scholarships given.
Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said no one regulates the program it’s up to lawmakers to police themselves. A better solution, he and financial aid experts say, is to have the state agency that doles out grants and other scholarships (Illinois Student Assistance Commission) to handle the program.
“Tuition and fees are going up, so we should be putting all our resources in need-based programs with guidelines,” said Redfield.
Here are the 61 lawmakers who awarded scholarships to students outside their districts, as well as the recipients of the waivers:
1. Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-2 Chicago)
– Daniel Guerrero (2004)
- Nichola Guerrero (2008)
2. Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-32 McHenry)
– Kathleen L Atwater (2003)
- Matth Brummond (2006)
- Lindsey Ludwig (2004)
- Tyler Munson 2006,2007)
- Katherine Strand (2005)
3. Rep. Maria A. Berrios (D-39 Chicago)
– Emmanuel Serna (2008)
4. Rep. Michael J. Boland (D-71 East Moline)
– Sarah Bowlin (2003)
- Madeline Mason (2005)
- Sarah A O’Klock (2004)
5. Sen. Larry K Bomke (R-50 Springfield)
– Audra O’Brien (2005)
- Benjamin C Owen (2004)
6. Sen. Michael Bond (D-31 Grayslake)
– Jennifer Wolff (2008)
7. Rep. Michael Bost (R-115 Murphysboro)
– Carly James (2006)
- Brooke Miller (2004)
8. Rep. Daniel J Burke (D-23 Chicago)
– Marcelo Sahagun (2006, 2007)
9. Sen. Bradley J Burzynski (R-35 Rochelle)
– Christopher Haab (2005)
10. Rep. Linda Chapa-LaVia (D-83 Aurora)
– Drew Nielson (2006)
11. Sen. James F Clayborne Jr. (D-57 Belleville)
– Andre Hodges (2004)
12. Rep. Annazette Collins (D-10 Chicago)
– Alana Biggers 2008)
- Candace Cosby (2006)
- Clarisa Ecrezarreta (2006, 2007)
- Brittany Fowler (2008)
- Torrance Giles (2003, 2004, 2005)
- Andre Holland (2003, 2004, 2005)
- Jasmine Lindsay (2006, 2007, 2008)
- Joseph Pocztowski (2005)
- Jack Washington (2006)
- Asif Wilson (2003, 2006, 2007)
13. Rep. Elizabeth Coulson (R-17 Glenview)
– Lauren Yang (2007)
14. Sen. Daniel Cronin (R-21 Elmhurst)
– Candice Jones (2003)
15. Rep. Tom Cross (R-84 Oswego)
– Rachel Solomon (2004)
16. Sen. John J Cullerton (D-6 Chicago)
– Jacqu Grossnickle (2008)
17. Rep. Shane Cultra (R-105 Onarga)
– Deidre Evans (2008)
18. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25 Chicago)
– Birtile McDaniels (2003)
19. Rep. Monique Davis (D-27 Chicago)
– Erin Collins (2007)
- Jocelyn Davis (2003, 2004, 2005)
- Ryan Fields (2008)
- Cydnee Kennedy (2009)
- Cornel J McKay Jr. (2005, 2006)
- James McKay (2006)
20. Sen. William Delgado (D-2 Chicago)
– Ruth Venegas (2008)
21. Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-5 Chicago)
– Lauren Jackson (2007, 2008)
22. Rep. James Durkin (R-82 Western Springs)
– Destinie Lambert (2007, 2008)
23. Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-12 Chicago)
– Elizabeth Oppert (2007)
- Gretchen Watson (2003, 2004)
24. Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31 Chicago)
– Matthew Koll (2003)
- Chaka Washington (2003, 2004)
25. Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8 Chicago)
– Jennifer Eng (2007)
- Marcie Gutierrez (2008)
- Lauren Lee (2007)
- Carolyn Ojikutu (2007)
26. Rep. Jack Franks (D-63 Woodstock)
– Carrie L Burdette (2003)
- Robert Ohr (2003)
- Dakota Pawlicki (2004)
- Danielle Slater (2007)
27. Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18 Evanston)
– John Rosinski (2007, 2008)
28. Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-5 Chicago)
– Alison Favors (2005)
- Jason Steward (2004)
29. Rep. Thomas Holbrook (D-113 Belleville)
– Jacob Long (2005)
30. Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67 Rockford)
– Amy Chavez (2005)
- Tyler Davis (2008)
- Rosa Labak (2003)
- Brenno McElrath (2008)
- Kayla Schumacher (2003)
- Kenosha Seaberry (2007)
31. Sen. David Koehler (D-46 Peoria)
– Trey Tennel (2008)
32. Rep. Renee Kosel (R-81 New Lenox)
– Lisa Evans (2003)
33. Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-33 Park Ridge)
– Xuyu Xiang (2008)
34. Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-25 Aurora)
– David Dalpiaz (2005)
35. Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4 Maywood)
– Michael B Romain (2003)
- Jessica Smith (2004)
36. Sen. Terry Link (D-30 Vernon Hills)
– Rachael Jacobs (2007, 2008)
- Antoine Winbush (2007)
37. Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-58 Okawville)
– Beth Smoker (2003)
38. Rep. Karen May (D-58 Highland Park)
– Van Ceu (2006, 2007)
39. Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-20 Chicago)
– Alycia LaPonte (2006)
40. Sen. James Meeks (D-15 Calumet City)
– Deon Posley (2006)
41. Rep. David Miller (R-20 Chicago)
– Myka Bell (2004)
- Kyla Wilson (2006)
42. Rep. Gerald Mitchell (R-90 Sterling)
– Mallorie Clark (2005)
43. Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-87 Forsyth)
– Abigail Miller (2007)
44. Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-57 Northbrook)
– Jacqueline Farrell (2003)
- Priti Patel (2007, 2008)
45. Sen. Michael Noland (D-22 Elgin)
– Valerie Brej (2007)
46. Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-61 Antioch)
– Hayley Janney (2006, 2007, 2008)
47. Sen. Carole Pankau (R-23 Itasca)
– Ashley Bjork (2005)
- Bernard Healy (2006)
- Jacquelyn Jacob (2005)
48. Rep. Raymond Poe (R-99 Springfield)
– Murray Bryson (2008)
- Robert Nika (2006)
49. Rep. David Reis (R-108 Willow Hill)
– Jenny Power (2005)
50. Rep. Dan Reitz (D-116 Steeleville)
– Robert Rushing (2005)
51. Rep. Al Riley (D-38 Olympia Fields)
– Amia Ashford (2007)
52. Sen. Dale Risinger (R-37 Peoria)
– Justina Welchel (2005)
53. Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-12 Chicago)
– William Fudacz (2006)
- Edwin Gonzalez (2007)
- Mathew Lopresti 2006)
- Nicholas Perrone (2008)
- Melissa Smith (2006)
- Anna Taconi (2006)
54. Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8 Chicago)
– Jennifer DeStefano (2004, 2005, 2006)
- Mi Shewakramani (2005)
55. Sen. Donne Trotter (D-17 Chicago)
– Joy Clemons (2003)
56. Rep. Michael Tryon (R-64 Crystal Lake)
– Kelsey McGrath (2008)
- Katrina Schuette (2008)
57. Rep. Arthur Turner (D-9 Chicago)
– Alisa Thomas (2006)
- Jennifer Wilder (2005)
58. Sen. Louis Viverito (D-11 Burbank)
– Jody Farrell (2003)
- Matthew Hecker (2006)
- Danielle Herman (2006)
- Antho Robertson (2005)
59. Rep. Eddie Washington (D-60 Waukegan)
– Phillip H. Christmas Jr. (2004)
- Carla DeLafuente (2004)
- Lee England (2003)
- Trishondr Holmes (2007)
- William Sexton (2006)
60. Rep. David Winters (R-68 Shirland)
– Gregory Morrison (2004)
61. Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7 Maywood)
– Marquis Davis (2003)
- Roger Steele (2006, 2007, 2008)