In the News: Illinois lawmaker floats bill to ban taxpayer-funded commencement speakers

Rep. Mark Batinick
By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — In the wake of a publicly funded Illinois university trying to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a graduation speaker in the midst of a fiscal crisis, a state lawmaker is reintroducing a bill that would ban the practice. 

Northeastern Illinois University's board was shocked last week to hear that the school had signed a contract to pay former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett $30,000 to give a commencement speech. Interim President Richard Helldobler said the school doesn't have to get board permission to make purchases below $50,000…

The school is heavily reliant on state funds and the ongoing budget battle in Springfield is holding up appropriations. To save money, the school cancelled classes on April 11 and 12 and plans to do so again one day in May.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, says this is exactly why taxpayer-funded schools shouldn't be allowed to pay commencement speakers. He is filing a bill that would ban the practice in Illinois.

"It certainly isn't the best use of public funds at a time when the university's laying off workers and furloughing people," he said. "And if you expect to get paid for that sort of speech, you don't deserve to give that sort of speech…"

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