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Tuition waivers went to state workers' children

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers handed out hundreds of college tuition waivers in the past decade to children of campaign donors or state workers, according to a published report.

And while the roundly criticized legislative scholarship program ended Sept. 1, some members of the General Assembly maneuvered during its last gasps to reward the politically connected, according to a report Friday in the Chicago Tribune.

The century-old program allowed legislators to grant the equivalent of two, four-year scholarships each year to be divided as they chose to students who live in their districts. It was abolished as of Sept. 1 after years of media scrutiny and federal subpoenas being served to at least three current and former legislators.

The Tribune analyzed all legislative scholarships dating to 2001, and found at least 75 lawmakers had awarded waivers to children of donors to the politicians' re-election campaigns or other campaign funds they controlled.

The newspaper also found that at least 317 scholarships went to the relatives of state workers — with job titles ranging from toll collector to assistant attorney general. Family members of at least eight judges who earned no less than $140,000 also benefited.

A federal grand jury has sought information about the scholarships from three current and former lawmakers, including Sen. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago. The Tribune reported Collins, who lost a primary race for re-election last spring, awarded a scholarship this fall to a 20-year-old Texas woman who moved to Illinois to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A spokeswoman says Collins relies on the Illinois State Board of Education to verify a student's eligibility.

The Legislature voted by wide margins in both houses last spring to abolish the program. Twenty-two of those who voted to end it still handed out awards this year, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.

Another who continued the tradition was Rep. Scott Penny, a Fairmont City Democrat. Penny, the police chief of the small town outside of St. Louis, Mo., was appointed late last year to fill a vacant seat and vowed not to seek election to a full term.

But he gave four-year scholarships to two students whose parents are tied to the St. Clair Democratic Party, the Tribune reported.

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