Should recipients of student aid be disclosed?

An Illinois state court battle is heating up over whether an agency should be compelled to release the names of students who received state financial aid to attend college.

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Chicago digital media entrepreneur Brian Timpone said he plans to appeal a recent court decision that blocked him from compelling Illinois state government to disclose the names of students who received state financial aid.

That will require a petition to the Illinois Supreme Court after an Illinois appellate court decision last week sided with a state agency denying his Freedom of Information Act request for the information.That appellate court reversed a lower court that had said the state should comply with his FOIA. Despite that earlier Cook County Circuit Court ruling in October 2017, the information hadn’t been released.

Timpone, founder of residential real estate site Block79彩票注册网址per and online publisher Locality Labs, in 2016 sued the state agency, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, over its FOIA denial. In the request, he sought the names and home addresses of students who received state aid through the Monetary Award Program, plus the names of the schools they attended. 

But the Dec. 11 Illinois Appellate Court’s ruling determined that the student information was private and exempt from a FOIA request. It also reversed an earlier award the lower court had given Timpone for $10,478 to pay his attorney’s fees.

“Given the detailed personal income information of MAP applicants and recipients that has been disclosed and is maintained on ISAC’s public website, we conclude that the further disclosure of the names of MAP grant recipients would invade the privacy of those individuals,” the Illinois appeals court said.

Timpone, who has been associated with conservative political causes in the past, said in an interview that he believes the MAP grant names should be made public so state government can be held accountable for who’s receiving the funds and to ensure that there isn’t fraud in distributing the money. He cited the state’s “history of corruption” to support his position. Asked if he was aware of any instances in which there might have been an inappropriate award, Timpone didn’t cite any. 

While ISAC had provided Timpone with some information, it declined to deliver the personal information. In a statement, it says there is no basis for allegations that MAP hasn’t distributed the state aid to students appropriately. 

79彩票注册网址 ISAC adheres to “objective criteria for awards (available in statute and on the agency’s website), and an automated process that does not leave room for the exercise of discretion,” the agency said in a statement in response. “Moreover, ISAC and schools are subject to administrative rules and audits of their compliance with rules and law.”

ISAC spokeswoman Lynne Baker added that Illinois passed a law last year that makes students’ personal information exempt from a FOIA request.

The agency also noted that there is a lot of regularly updated, aggregate information about MAP grant recipients on its website.

Timpone said he was inspired to file the lawsuit upon reading a student’s op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business protesting the suspension of MAP grants during a two-year budget impasse under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Timpone objects generally to the state grant program as an inadequate way to help students afford college. As a suburban River Forest resident with five children between the ages of 6 and 14, he said he has a personal interest in the topic. “The MAP grants are trivial,” he said. “There  should be no MAP grants. The schools should lower their tuitions.”

The average MAP grant for the 2018-2019 school year was about $3,043, according to ISAC (figures for the current year aren’t available yet). Average in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public university in Illinois is $14,170, according to the nonprofit College Board.

In pursuing the lawsuit, Timpone teamed with attorney Patrick Hughes of the Liberty Justice Center, which attracted attention in the landmark labor union case ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in favor of a non-union worker, Mark Janus, objecting to public-sector union dues. That was widely considered a victory for Rauner.

Timpone has been associated with Rauner in the past through their links to a network of local political newspapers that regularly support right-leaning policies. In the past, some of the papers were backed by the Liberty Principles PAC, a political action committee headed by conservative talk show host Dan Proft, and at one time published by Locality Labs. 

Timpone earlier led another Chicago publishing venture called Journatic79彩票注册网址, which was hired by the Chicago Tribune in 2012 to produce freelance copy for the newspaper’s localized editions, but the ties were frayed later that year after fake bylines and an incident of plagiarism were revealed.

 


 

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