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Adrianna Carr returned to DeKalb on Thursday hopeful.
Carr, 19, is a sophomore studying nursing at Northern Illinois University. She is one of thousands of students who traveled to Springfield to lobby lawmakers to restore more than $200 million to a state-funded grant program that provides money to more than 137,000 needy students to attend college.
Carr is one of those students: Although she gets a federal grant and has loans, the state's Monetary Assistance Program Grant provides her with much of the money she needs to attend NIU. She has been unsure how she would pay her tuition in the spring because the state only provided funding to MAP Grants for the fall semester.
But action taken Thursday by lawmakers – which authorized funding MAP Grants in the spring – has given her hope that she can continue her education.
"Most of the people who talked said there was a good possibility of us getting it back," Carr said during a phone interview late Thursday afternoon. "I have faith that we will get it back."
The Illinois House and Senate voted Thursday to give $205 million to MAP Grants. But it was unclear where the state, which is billions of dollars in debt, will find the money.
Lawmakers say they expected Gov. Pat Quinn to come up with the cash, noting they gave him $1.2 billion to spend as he wished. Quinn used that for social services, then complained lawmakers had shorted the scholarship program. Quinn has proposed raising cigarette taxes to pay for it. If that fails, it could mean deeper cuts elsewhere.
Republicans complained about the measure, but the House approved it 115-0. Both state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, voted in favor of it.
The Senate approved it 56-1. State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, who voted yes, said the authorization wasn't needed since Quinn could dole out the money on his own.
"It didn't do anything really for these students, in my opinion," he said of Thursday's action, although he noted that lawmakers may consider additional revenue sources to fund the grants.
Pritchard isn't so sure: Democrats blocked a Republican attempt to call a vote on a tax amnesty plan Republicans say would bring in $105 million. The measure was introduced by Pritchard and would have provided a six-week window during which anyone who owes money to the state could pay their taxes and not be penalized.
"The state is broke and the majority party will not let us talk about getting some real revenue to solve these problems," he added.
The original cut to the program came as 25 percent more students applied for MAP Grants this year over last, although fewer were granted. The grant provides a maximum of about $2,500 per semester.
About 5,300 students at NIU receive MAP grants, and 667 at Kishwaukee College in Malta. NIU students stand to collectively lose $11 million in the spring, and Kishwaukee College students about $460,000, if the funding isn't restored.
Ken Zehnder, NIU's associate director of external affairs, said Thursday's action puts additional stress on the budget because lawmakers did not provide a way to fund the grants. But he too is hopeful that students will receive their grants in the spring.
"It's better than when we got up this morning," he added.
Robert Sorsby, president of NIU's Student Association, said about 40 students from DeKalb went to Springfield where they attended a rally and then visited lawmakers.
Justine Cramsey, 22, is studying sociology at NIU. She doesn't receive a MAP Grant, but said she went to Springfield on behalf of those who do.
"I really wanted to go down because I don't want to see students miss the opportunity of attaining an education," she said. "An education is the key to success. For students who cannot afford to attend college, the MAP Grant gives them an opportunity for a better life."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.