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Flag Restoration Project’s 100th flag change

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner participates in Flag Restoration Project’s 100th flag change with project founder Liam Willcox on Thursday in Silvis. The 13-year-old from Moline has been on a mission over the past year to collect new American flags to give Quad-Citians who need their flags replaced. The governor's visit was a surprise to Liam.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said education reforms in the recently passed state budget will definitely help Western Illinois University-Quad Cities.

Appearing before some 100 students, faculty and others Thursday afternoon at the Riverfront Hall in Moline, Rauner said he believes a number of things in the state budget will help the students immediately.

"The immediate thing is we got the budget passed," he said. "We got the MAP (Monetary Award Program) grants fully funded (for all four years of a student's education). We got $25 million more coming to our state institutions of higher ed. And we’ve got immediate help on getting the support for this year."

But, he quickly added, more work is needed. Among the things he plans to tackle are adding more resources while greatly reducing or eliminating mandates, restrictions, requirements and procurement, pension, hiring limitations and bureaucracy.

"Higher education, this is our time," Rauner said.

"What we’ve got to do, is we need more every year going forward from here," he said. "It’s a start. But every year going forward (we need to) get more. That’s our commitment."

During his approximately 13-minute talk, Rauner discussed his efforts not just for higher education but also for K-12 classes, which he said had been cut every year since 2002 before he took office. "The state had one of the biggest gaps between what lower income schools received per student and what higher income schools received," he said. "It was a real gap, a real disparity. That was denying the American dream to too many families, too many young people who were growing up without the resources that maybe higher income families had."

It was wrong, and it's why he ran for office, he said, adding that it's now been corrected through a new funding formula that is more fair. "Every year that I have been governor we have put more funding in our K-through-12 schools," he added. "This year we will put $1.4 billion more into K-through-12 schools than before I was in office."

Rauner also addressed concerns over declining enrollments at Illinois colleges and universities.

"We’ve had enrollment shrinkage at many higher-education institutions in Illinois in recent years," he said. "But, frankly, this has been going on for decades. We’ve been losing students, and many of our universities have had shrinking enrollments.

"This is a challenge we need to take on by getting the mandate relief on our schools, getting more state support but bringing down the cost structure," he said.

Some state universities overlap each other, offering the same degrees for the same programs, he said. Some schools do it more cost-efficiently than others.

"So we need to have a rationalization across the state university system, so some focus on areas of education for themselves that may be different than other campuses," he said.

Western trustee Carolyn Ehlert Fuller, said she liked what she heard from the governor, starting with the 2 percent increase in funding for higher education. "That right off the bat is a big thing," she said, ".because we have had years where there was little funding or much less than in the past."

Dr. Joe Rives, university vice president for the Quad-Cities and planning, said he heard a number of items in Rauner's comments that excited him.

"Absolutely, the $25 million to invest in higher education financial aid was key for Western Illinois University," Rives said. "We serve a high percentage of students on financial aid. So this is just great news for us.

"It (the new budget) actually serves all 12 (state) universities," he added. "And a rising tide lifts all boats."

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Business Editor/Night City Editor