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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Curtis Calls for Fully Funding Higher Ed

John Curtis for State Representative
John Curtis

John Curtis of Macomb, who's running as a Democrat for state representative, said it’s a critical error to underfund higher education.

“This isn’t just potentially catastrophic for our region, but it’s just a really bad idea to underfund our education. We need a lot more educated young folks and it needs to affordable,” Curtis said.

Curtis is running against incumbent Republican Norine Hammond of Macomb in the November election.

Curtis criticized Hammond’s proposal in the Illinois House to cut funding for higher education by 20% for four year universities and 10% for community colleges for the current fiscal year, which began last July. Over the past nine months, public colleges and universities have not received any money from the state.

Curtis said he would vote to fully fund higher education institutions. “Holding students hostage and educators hostage is just no way to solve our budget problems,” Curtis said. “We need to be a lot smarter and honestly our governor needs to remember that govern is part of that title and he’s just not getting the job done.”

The bill Hammond and other Republicans are promoting to fund higher education would give Governor Bruce Rauner the authority to move money around state government.

Curtis said Governor Rauner has proven himself to not be worth that kind of trust and ultimately it’s the legislature’s job to pay the state’s bills. “Governor Rauner has just done nothing to, you know, make us feel like we can trust him with our money and those kinds of decisions. He obviously just doesn’t care about the people,” Curtis said.

Over the last few months, Curtis said he’s been talking to voters and campaigning door-to-door. He said he’s met many people who have “buyer’s remorse” for voting for Governor Rauner.

Curtis said the budget impasse coupled with declining state aid over the last decade is forcing Western Illinois University to price itself out of the market as students opt for cheaper tuition at out-of-state schools.

He said that hurts the region because the university is an important part of the local economy. Curtis owns Barefoot Gardens, a CSA near Macomb.

Curtis made his comments while attending a solidarity march and rally for WIU.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.