In 2017 some of us criticized then-State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie for voting for legislation that dramatically improved how Illinois distributes state funds to public schools, but also created the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship voucher program.
Invest in Kids functions like a traditional school voucher, but, instead of directly paying private schools, third-party “Scholarship Granting Organizations” accept the donations and make tuition payments to private schools.
The donor then gets a state tax credit in the amount of 75% of their donation. The program allows up to $75 million to be paid out in tax credits, reducing Illinois’ General Revenue Fund by that same amount.
This school year, about 9,600 students are receiving tax-funded scholarships to attend more than 475 private schools, about 95% of which are religious, diverting almost $57 million in state tax dollars. In Hyde Park, Akiba-Schechter received 14 scholarships and the Lab School received 24.
The Illinois General Assembly created the program as a pilot scheduled to sunset after five years. Last spring they extended it to the 2023-2024 school year.
On recent visits to Springfield we’ve spoken with legislators about allowing this program to sunset as intended. Many legislators support the sunset, but we also heard “It’s only $75 million” and concerns about children whose parents don’t want to send them to their neighborhood school.
Existing voucher programs around the country have ballooned. If Illinois follows the paths of our neighbors Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa, our $75 million voucher-like program will be a hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars program before long.
As for the students receiving scholarships, there is little oversight of the funds sent to private schools to educate them. These schools don’t have to follow the same rules that public schools do. They can teach creationism; they can leave out the part about abortion being a medical procedure that can save a woman’s life. They can, and do, exclude students on the basis of their or their family members’ gender identity; they are not required to serve students with disabilities or English-language learners.
None of the private schools receiving tax credit scholarships in Hyde Park reported serving any special education students in 2021-22. In contrast, all 25 CPS schools in 60615 and 60637 serve students with disabilities. These schools are underfunded by $36,373,200.00.
Even though the state should issue annual reports about Invest in Kids’ recipients’ state test scores, five years into the program there have been none.
And we also don’t know how many students were already enrolled in the private school that now gets tax dollars to educate them. If the patterns in other states hold here, only about 1 in 5 voucher recipients ever previously attended public school, and so, if the program ends, such students would likely not “be forced” to return to public school; their schools would find an alternative funding source for them.
Parents are free to choose private schools for their children. Supporters of these schools can donate to them and receive a generous federal tax deduction for doing so, making it possible for students from a wide range of incomes to attend.
We should be using our tax dollars to support schools that do not discriminate. We should be using our tax dollars to support schools that our state educational bodies oversee. Private school subsidies undermine our underfunded public education system. The Invest in Kids program should sunset.
Beto De Freitas
Ino Saves New
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May 15, 2023 at 05:26PM