Politicians love to talk about the importance of education. In Illinois, legislators go a step further and personally award scholarships to state universities -- sometimes to friends, donors and political allies.
For a century, each Illinois legislator has had the power to hand out a few scholarships every year without regard to students' needs or qualifications, which fit comfortably in the state's tradition of favors for people with connections. In recent years, a state lawmaker helped a political backer's four children with $94,000 worth of tuition waivers. Another gave a scholarship to the son of a Chicago alderman. Federal investigators are also looking into cases of recipients with suspicious addresses.
Now, after the failure of repeated efforts to end the $13.5 million-a-year program, opponents are making a new push to eliminate the waivers as Illinois officials try again to clean up the state's image after two consecutive governors wound up in prison.
The Illinois House voted last week to get rid of the freebie program; the big question is whether Senate Democrats will allow a vote on what Gov. Pat Quinn calls "political scholarships."