By: Ashmar Mandou
Chicago organizations are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to ensure Illinois’ Invest in Kids voucher program ends after the 2023-2024 school year. According to members of organizations, such as the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, the program diverts more than $190 million in tax dollars to private and catholic schools not required to follow the federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
“The IFT has opposed the Invest In Kids program since the day it was passed in 2017. This program is not an investment in kids, but a loophole for diverting public funding toward harmful school privatization efforts. It gives a huge tax break to the wealthy while taking funds from the kids in public schools who need it the most,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “The private schools who then benefit have zero accountability and aren’t required to adhere to state standards. Our public school students in Illinois need and deserve every bit of funding they can get from our state budget. We call on leaders in the state legislature to keep public funding in public schools and commit to ending this program.”
The Invest in Kids Act is a statewide program that passed in 2017 under former Governor Bruce Rauner as part of a compromise with legislative leaders at the time, Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, to resolve a multi-year budget crisis and create a new evidence-based formula for distributing state funding to public schools.
“Illinois is not currently fully funding the evidence-based school funding formula. Four out of five of our schools are not funded appropriately. Until we fully fund Illinois public schools, which provide an education for ALL students, tax credits, which are essentially school vouchers, should not be available to fund private and religious schools,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “In addition, there is no meaningful data being collected for this program. We don’t know how many students, new to the schools, this voucher scheme is funding; the retention rate of students attending; learning outcomes or the impact on enrollment at nearby schools.”
About 95 percent of Illinois private schools receiving vouchers are religious, and anti-discrimination laws mostly do not apply to religious schools. Discrimination by schools receiving Invest in Kids vouchers in admissions and other policies is widespread based on research by advocacy group Illinois Families for Public Schools ( IL-FPS), according to the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Since it started, the Invest in Kids program has diverted more than $193 million in tax revenue from the General Revenue Fund over the past four fiscal years. In the 2021-2022 school year, 9,000 students received vouchers to attend 471 private schools, 95 percent of them religious.
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March 9, 2023 at 07:19AM