In 2017, the IL General Assembly passed the Invest in Kids Act and created what was supposed to be a temporary school voucher program that could divert up to $75 million per year in public dollars to fund private schools in Illinois. Voucher programs siphon funds from public schools, they don’t promote education equity and they don’t improve outcomes for the students who receive them. You can read our FAQ about problems with the Illinois’ voucher program here.
Now supporters want to make this program permanent and expand it. This would be extremely damaging for Illinois’ public education system, and that’s why Illinois Families for Public Schools is working with many other state and local orgs, including the League of Women Voters of IL, IL’s teachers unions, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and many others, to call for ending this program for good.
We will be in Springfield for the veto session this week to talk to legislators about the need to sunset the program as ILGA intended and stop diverting tax revenue—more than $193M so far— from our underfunded public schools.
But, unlike in 2017, Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher org American Federation for Children now has a lobbyist on the ground in Springfield, and a PAC that’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on IL candidates this year. And the voucher granting orgs themselves are also lobbying now—and using the money they skim off as a percentage of the voucher program dollars to do it! (You can read more about how that works in WBEZ’s exposé from 2018: How To Take In $33 Million In Taxpayer Dollars: Partner With The Catholic Church.)
With these well-funded anti-public school forces pushing false claims about the program in order to extend it permanently, those of us who believe public funds are for public schools need to make sure our voices are heard and that it’s “game over” for Illinois vouchers.
What can you do?
✶ Call your state senator and state rep this week to say “I’m a constituent who cares about public schools. I’m calling about the Invest in Kids voucher program that diverts public dollars away from our already underfunded public schools in Illinois. Can I count on my senator/representative to support ending this program?” Find their contact info here.
✶ Sign up to get action alerts and hear about ways to support the Game Over for IL Vouchers campaign. This is certain to be a tough fight, and we need pro-public school advocates to stay involved!
✶ Share our FAQ about the Invest in Kids voucher program with your networks and invite them to join the campaign.
✶ Ask your org to endorse this campaign if you’re part of a community or issue advocacy org, contact us for more info: [email protected].
The Invest in Kids voucher program has already drained more than $190 million from the public coffers in Illinois, and it’s already been extended one year past the original sunset date. Vouchers harm the public good by diverting public dollars from our underfunded public schools. They don’t improve academic outcomes for children who receive vouchers. And they don’t improve equity; voucher schools in Illinois discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, LGBTQ+ status and more.
What’s the outlook for public ed after the general election? Local politics matters
Nationally, the implications of November’s election results for public education were mixed and heavily dependent on state and local outcomes. A partisan split in Congress will mean that the federal government is unlikely to alter education policy much through legislation. Illinois remains a Blue state with the Democratic party controlling the governorship and the General Assembly. But as we described above—that’s not a guarantee for pro-public education policies! The creation of Illinois’ voucher program was bipartisan when it happened, and last month Gov. Pritzker told the Sun-Times that he is in favor of the program (a change from his position last time he ran for governor.)
Although Illinois did not have local elections on the ballot on Nov 8th, school board races were decided around the country, some won by the right wing, others by communities united to preserve public education.
Associated Press ’Too hyperbolic’? School board parental rights push falters
Chalkbeat Detroit Conservative activists fall short in Michigan's local school board races
NBC News Moms for Liberty-backed school board members fire superintendent, ban critical race theory
The immediate dramatic and negative changes carried out in the aftermath of a Moms for Liberty takeover of a South Carolina school district are a cautionary tale for the power that local boards can wield.
Local elections are looming in Illinois, in February and April in Chicago, and April in the rest of the state, and anti-public education forces here are urging and training people to run, especially in school board races, including the Illinois Policy Institute and astroturf parent groups like Awake IL and Moms for Liberty.
Public schools need to educate all students who come through their doors, and local control means that whether that happens is very much in the hands of school boards in Illinois. Boards can decide to refuse book bans, to support culturally-responsive teaching practices, to prioritize social-emotional learning, to pay for social workers and counselors instead of stationing police in hallways, to teach comprehensive sex ed and accurate history and science…or they can do the opposite. It depends who’s serving on the board!
We’d love to hear from you about how races are shaping up in your school districts. Candidates have until Dec 19th to file their paperwork. If you are thinking of running, we have resources on our website here.