Funding bill with vouchers passes the IL General Assembly

Our statement on the "compromise" school funding bill which contains vouchers.

August 29, 2017

The good news is that the General Assembly passed a school funding bill that addresses the broken funding formula in Illinois and provides pension relief for Chicago. The state was long overdue in meeting their obligation to fund Chicago pensions, and this is a good step. We should note that school funding in Illinois is likely to remain inadequate for years to come. In order to get to an adequate funding level for the state’s schools, Illinois will need to come up with at least $6 billion over the next 10 years. The bill that passed relies on this money to fulfill the purported long-term goal of adequacy, but it doesn’t mandate it, so it’s very important that we stay on top of appropriations for education down the road.

The very bad news is that to get this agreement, the legislature agreed to what amounts to a $75 million voucher scheme that allows wealthy taxpayers, including businesses, to take up to $1 million each in tax credits for donations that fund scholarships for private and parochial schools. The magnitude of the tax credit further erodes the separation of church and state in Illinois by diverting so much tax revenue to parochial schools. In Chicago, this de facto state subsidy to parochial schools, which have the space to enroll thousands of students, will mean declining enrollments at many CPS schools, giving CPS reasons to close even more schools.

There’s a lot of debate over whether this is a voucher program or not. It’s similar in that a student uses money diverted from tax funds to go to a private or religious school. The main difference is that the government doesn’t cut the check directly to a family but a middle organization or scholarship fund cuts the check directly to the school. Either way, it’s tax money diverted from the public good to private schools.  It means $375 million less in the General Revenue Fund over the next five years in a state that's already $6.5 billion behind in adequately funding public education.

This opens up a can of worms that won’t be easy to close in Illinois despite what we’re hearing about a five-year sunset for this program. This program was never debated on the floor of the House or Senate and was agreed upon by five men behind closed doors. That’s not the way to do public policy and not what we want in our democracy.

Look here to see how your state rep and your state senator voted.

News coverage

Illinois Public Media: Illinois House Passes School Funding Overhaul On 2nd Attempt

TribuneOn third try, Illinois House approves education funding bill

WBEZ: Q&A: The Controversy Over The Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Sun-Times  Education bill heads to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk after Senate passage