Tom Kacich | Parkland president stumping for nursing-degree bill

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Controversial legislation pitting two-year community colleges in Illinois against four-year universities is scheduled for a return trip to the Senate Higher Education Committee this week.

Tom Ramage, president of Parkland College in Champaign, will be among the chief proponents of legislation that would permit community colleges to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in nursing.

The bill (SB 888) suffered a setback in the committee last May, although that was a different version. That measure would have restricted the initiative to 11 community colleges — among them Parkland and Lincoln Land in Springfield — and to no more than 7,000 students. The original version of the bill permitted as many as 20 community colleges to offer a four-year nursing degree.

Under this newest version, the limitations are off.

“It removes all restrictions on how many community colleges can have the program. There’s no limitation, which is interesting,” Ramage said.

And he’s fine with that.

“If I were a legislator, I would be the sponsor,” he said. “I do know there was concern among the community colleges that (11) would be severely limiting. There were more than that number who were very interested.”

Last year, the same committee voted down a different version of the bill 8-7. The two local senators on the panel, Democrat Scott Bennett of Champaign and Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet, cancelled out each other’s vote. Bennett voted for it; Rose was opposed.

Bennett said last week that he needed to review the new proposal before making a commitment. Rose said he’s interested in the legislation and the issue but that he thinks it ought to be part of a broader plan for administering higher education in Illinois, something a bipartisan higher education working group of legislators is reviewing.

Ramage said he didn’t know what kind of a reception the bill would get this time around.

“I don’t know if it will get out of committee. But we’re working it very hard,” he said.

And he’s going to work for it doggedly, he pledged.

“As long as I’m working we’re going to have a bill every year until it gets done. Perhaps it’s this year. If not, it will be the next and the next after that,” Ramage said, “I think it’s the very formulation of a great plan for higher ed, especially community colleges and how well we can serve our communities.”

Last year, opposition to the measure came from public and private four-year universities, in particular Southern Illinois University and its president, Randy Dunn.

“If we cross this line in providing the authority for bachelor’s degrees at community colleges,” Dunn said, “we’re at a point where we will be changing statutory, operational history and the structure of how Illinois public higher education was envisioned.”

He said that 35 higher education institutions already had nursing programs and could expand their capacity to meet the perceived need.

But supporters of the four-year degree at community colleges said that students needed a more affordable option, one that was closer to their homes.

Spoerer debt

Carl Spoerer, the rural Mahomet man who sought the Democratic nomination in the 15th Congressional District last month, has terminated his campaign fund, essentially taking on a nearly $13,000 debt left over from the campaign.

Spoerer, who lost the Democratic nomination to Kevin Gaither of Charleston, reported $18,131 in contributions during the campaign, although more than two-thirds ($12,774) was from himself. He spent $15,743 in his unsuccessful campaign.

Coincidentally, the man whose job he wanted — veteran U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville — last week reported having a little more than $1 million in his campaign fund on March 31.

Shimkus, who was unopposed in the Republican primary, has reported $1.23 million in campaign contributions this election cycle. Of that sum, $1.11 million — or more than 90 percent — has come from political action committees.

Frerichs opponent

Jim Dodge, the Orland Park village trustee who is the Republican candidate for state treasurer, reported $15,353 in his campaign fund on March 31.

Dodge will oppose State Treasurer Mike Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, in the November general election. At last count — Dec. 31, 2017 — Frerichs had more than $530,000 in his campaign fund. He’s reported another $258,000 in itemized contributions since.

Dodge raised $35,207 in the first three months of 2018 and spent $27,822 during the period. He was unopposed in the Republican primary.

So far, he has loaned his campaign almost $28,000. He hasn’t received any campaign support from the Illinois Republican Party or Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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