University of Illinois System seeks a boost in state funding

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The University of Illinois System is greeting incoming Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker by asking for a boost in state funding at its three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.

The system said in a statement today that its board of trustees approved the request today for $692.5 million in operating funds for fiscal 2020, which is 16.5 percent higher than the fiscal year 2019 budget. The increase would help backfill a gap in funding left by the state’s two-year budget impasse under outgoing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and help increase financial aid as well as faculty pay, the system said.

Pritzker, who was elected this month, talked frequently during his campaign about his support for educational initiatives. His running mate, incoming Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, is an Illinois House representative, but also a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she leads that school’s Center for Public Safety and Justice.

In the statement, System President Tim Killeen noted that the request is still well below the state’s peak appropriation of $804 million in fiscal year 2002. Separately, the system is also seeking approval for $722.4 million in capital funding to direct at maintenance and new construction across the campuses, including for a new UIC facility aimed at therapeutic drug research.

In an interview earlier this week, Killeen said he’s confident that the new governor is supportive of the Discovery Partners Institute project slated to take shape in Chicago as a center for research, innovation, and cooperation among the state’s big universities, including the Hyde Park-based University of Chicago and Evanston-based Northwestern University. Given Pritzker’s role as a key backer of the city’s 1871 technology and entrepreneurial center, Killeen believes DPI is “tailor-made for JB Pritzker’s worldview.” Rauner appropriated $500 million for that effort this year.

“I’m very confident that the new administration will be supportive of this overall (DPI) agenda,” Killeen said in the Nov. 13 interview. At the same time, he said: “I’m sure there will be adjustments and tweaks.”

The fiscal 2020 requests still require approval by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the governor and the legislature.