Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuition waivers cause trouble, even when state legislators follow the rules

It’s that time of year. The 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly have used their long-time legislative perk that allows them to grant full-tuition waivers to would-be students however they see fit.
SANDOVAL: A staffer's gaffe?

It is a perk that has been in place since 1905, and there are some legislators who will engage in self-righteous rhetoric about how all they’re doing is enabling young people to attend a university.

IT IS OUR legislators, hard at work, while doing something that will benefit our society for decades into the future. Education, they’ll say, is the key to improving our future.

If you think I’m laying it on a little bit thick, it is because I see the potential for so many things to go wrong when you create a program for which there are no rules – other than whatever ones the legislators themselves want to impose on themselves.

Even when we have legislators trying to do “the right thing,” things can go wrong.

The Chicago Sun-Times gave us a report this week of the latest gaffe related to the tuition waiver perk. The perpetrator, so to speak, is state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero.

NOW IN ALL fairness, Sandoval didn’t give a tuition waiver to the kid of a prominent campaign contributor, or grant his waiver to someone as a favor done for another legislator – who would now owe Sandoval something in return.

The blatant horror stories were not repeated. Although the fact that the words “organized crime” are being bandied about will make it sound worse.

For it seems that one of the eight people to whom Sandoval is giving a full-tuition waiver to for the 2011-12 academic year is Michael A. Giorango – who wants to use the waiver to attend Illinois State University in Normal.
GIORANGO: Will son have to pay tuition?

The “problem” is that Giorango’s father, also named Michael Giorango, is more commonly known to mob buffs as “Jaws.” The father currently is doing prison time for charges related to bookmaking, prostitution and failure to file income tax returns.

WHICH MEANS EVERYBODY, particularly those who get off on mob stories, will want to presume that Sandoval is somehow connected to organized crime. That there just had to be some direct connection between the two men. What, we’re going to wonder, did the Outfit do for Sandoval that he repaid them by giving a mob boss’ kid a free year of college?

Not that there’s any proof of truth to anything in that last paragraph.

In fact, the Sun-Times has Sandoval saying he never med Giorango’s kid, has no desire to meet him, and that it was one of his legislative staffers (who has since lost his job) who got confused and inadvertently approved the younger Giorango for the tuition waiver.

That latter part does have a certain ring of truth to it.

FOR MANY LEGISLATORS in recent years attempt to distance themselves from the horror stories involving political conflicts of interest of the past.

They create special committees that actually review the applicants and attempt to pick the people who have the best academic credentials. In many cases, the only time the legislator has any contact with the students is at some sort of reception at which they all get their picture taken together.

In short, the legislator takes all the credit for letting somebody go to college without having to pay tuition. But if something goes wrong, he gets deniability.

So maybe Sandoval is telling the truth that he had no prior contact with Giorango, the younger. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that point.

BUT HE DOES deserve some derision for the fact that he tried to weasel out of the incident by trying to rescind the tuition waiver – once he found out who Giorango actually was.

I’d respect the senator from Cicero if he had just stuck by his committee’s decision. One can legitimately argue that the younger Giorango has no criminal record, hasn’t done anything wrong, and should have the chance to get ahead in life.

If he actually had the academic credentials to qualify for a legislative waiver, then so be it. Although the Sun-Times reported that Giorango’s application for a tuition waiver did not include a transcript or any kind of essay to show off his skills. So who’s to say why someone, somewhere along the process thought he was worthy of the perk.

Which is quite a perk. Each year, every single senator and representative in Illinois is entitled to give one full, four-year tuition waiver to a University of Illinois student and another to a student at any other state university in Illinois.

BUT MANY LEGISLATORS prefer to split the waivers up into four, one-year waivers to the University of Illinois and four more to other state universities. Why only get credit for sending two kids to college when you can get credit for sending eight kids?

Which means the waivers, despite all the high-minded rhetoric about enabling young people to go to college, are really about boosting the egos of the individual legislators.

So excuse me for getting a chuckle at Sandoval’s expense. If he had just paid a little closer attention to what was being done in his name, he’d be getting all the glory this week.


No comments: