Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants his administration to investigate reports of potential tuition assistance fraud in Illinois.

A report from ProPublica Illinois found wealthy parents used a legal process through the courts to transfer custody of their children to other guardians so the child can be eligible for tuition assistance like Illinois’ Monetary Assistance Program, which provides need-based grants to students that do not need to be repaid.

Asked about the report Wednesday in Chicago, Pritzker called it fraud.

“It's terrible ... There are more people applying for Monetary Assistance Program money than there are dollars that we could provide,” the governor said. “So if people are defrauding the system, these wealthy parents are literally committing fraud here, we need to go find them, root it out, and make sure those dollars go to the right people.”

Pritzker said the state has limited funding available for a limited number of qualified students “which we increased by 10,000 more students just this Spring.”

“We want it to go to the students who are most in need, not the people who are defrauding the system,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker signed a measure into law in June that gives children of undocumented immigrants and transgender students access to MAP grants, a move that is estimated to increase the number of eligible students by 3,500 with an additional demand on the program of $9 million. Pritzker also signed a state budget that increases the MAP program by $50 million.

After the ProPublica report, Pritzker said he asked his staff to get to the bottom of it.

“So we need to look into it to make sure we are identifying people that are doing this, calling it out and making sure that we are preventing it from happening in the future,” he said.

The governor said the ProPublica report was thin on details about how to identify people who were taking advantage of the needs-based program, but he said he ordered his office to investigate.

Pritzker was himself reportedly under federal investigation for a scheme to defraud taxpayers in Chicago after removing toilets from a spare mansion to lower the property’s assessed value. Pritzker has denied any wrongdoing, but he paid back more than $300,000 in tax breaks.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.