A state lawmaker, flanked by young activists, released details of his plan to make Illinois' public universities tuition-free, but it would come with a price tag for taxpayers.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, a provided some details of his plan to make all Illinois public universities and community colleges tuition-free. Guzzardi said the ambitious plan would cost $2 billion. Guzzardi said he would fund it by establishing a progressive tax, an additional millionaire's tax and close what he calls "egregious corporate loopholes.”
"We're talking about raising taxes on the very wealthiest of Illinoisans, closing corporate loopholes and using that money to make school tuition free for every student," Guzzardi said. "It will lift the burden of debt off the next generation, it will enable our young people to start their careers with firm economic footing, and it will make our universities vibrant places of learning for the long term."
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Though a 3 percent millionaire tax to be spent on schools was popular in a 2014 advisory referendum, the measure could not garner the support needed in the General Assembly. A referendum that would have asked Illinoisans about instituting a progressive tax also failed. Both of these measures are central to Guzzardi's Tuition-Free Illinois plan.
Guzzardi did not mention additional costs, such as room and board, books, transportation and other fees, which a College Board survey said totaled more than $14,000 on average last year.
Studies done on other wealthy countries that have offered free tuition have shown spikes in attendance, but lower graduation rates. Tying tuition to state funds also would subject them to the volatility of Illinois' budget.
The progressive Campaign for Free College Tuition said the state would lose $1.45 billion in foregone tuition if the state offered tuition-free school. However, its study also said the cost would "be much higher" because students in private colleges would move to public universities for the free education, something seen in similar situations.
The study did not note whether the cost could jump more if nearby states aren't offering free schooling, attracting students to establish residence here, if only for the degree.
Guzzardi said he also intends to make college tuition-free for undocumented immigrants.
Guzzardi said he plans to file the legislation in January.