Gov. Pritzker gave his budget address on Wednesday, and it was heartening to hear him call out attacks on school boards and libraries, including book bans and 'Don't Say Gay' laws, and say unequivocally that here in Illinois we want our children to learn the truth about our history as a country, “warts and all.”
WQAD READ: Gov. JB Pritzker's 2023 State of the State address
Chicago Tribune: Gov. J.B. Pritzker stresses education in $49.6 billion budget proposal while blasting a ‘virulent strain of nationalism’ in national schools debate
Capitol News Pritzker lays out $49.6 billion spending plan
We were also relieved to hear his budget proposal does include an increase to state funding for K-12 of $350M for Evidence Based Funding (EBF). Although the state committed to a minimum increase of $350M each year back in 2017, it hasn’t happened every year! Gov. Pritzker also proposed $156M in new grant dollars to support special education, transportation and addressing the teacher shortage.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that annual EBF increases of just $350M won’t achieve full funding of our public schools until 2054, and we’re hoping the General Assembly takes a serious look at that date and provides more than a $350M increase by the time the budget is finalized in May.
What about the Invest in Kids voucher program?
We're happy to report that there was no mention of the Invest in Kids voucher program in the Governor's address, and we also can't find it in the FY2024 Operating Budget Book.
Does this mean Gov. Pritzker would prefer the voucher program to disappear at the end of FY2023 (like a bill Senator Castro recently introduced would do)? We don’t know, but we do think it is an encouraging sign.
The insufficiency of a $350M increase in EBF certainly highlights how crucial it is for the General Assembly to end the Invest in Kids voucher program.
In its current state, Invest in Kids can siphon away up to $75M from the General Revenue Fund. And we know that voucher programs are prone to mushrooming. States around us have voucher programs with an annual price tag of $444M (Wisconsin), $241M (Indiana), and Iowa just created a program that will be $345M/year by 2028.
In the context of our near neighbors, Illinois’ voucher programs’s $75M maximum cost may not sound like much, but when you look at some of what Pritzker proposed this week, it's clear that $75M matters! The amount directed to addressing the severe teacher shortage was $70M. The amount for the first year of a plan to achieve universal preschool was $75M; the increase to MAP funding was $100M.
The Southern Illinoisian Pritzker's 2024 budget proposal to include $250 million for pre-K expansion
And given public school families are fighting for every dollar of increase to EBF, sending any public dollars to private schools should be unthinkable.
The historic redo of the K-12 school funding formula in 2017 was specifically derived from the cost of educational practices that have robust research backing their effectiveness, like small class sizes and services for students with disabilities and English-language learners. Vouchers, in contrast, are not an evidence-based practice that improves academic outcomes. In fact, voucher programs hurt outcomes.
Diverting up to $75M from the General Revenue Fund to religious schools where you can't just not say gay, your child won’t be admitted if you or they are LGBTQ+ and to schools that refuse to serve children with disabilities—that's just an unacceptable use of public funds.
The fiscal outlook for FY2024 is relatively positive but still forecasts a drop in revenue. And Illinois hasn’t yet solved the longer term structural issues caused by the lack of a progressive income tax. We certainly can’t afford to waste money on a program that doesn’t serve the public good.
We should also note: the same states that are banning books, narrowing curricula to remove discussions of the struggle for racial justice in our country, and passing policies to harm and erase transgender students are also pursuing the privatization and defunding of public schools. All these bad policies are connected and supported by the "virulent strain of nationalism" that Gov. Pritzker condemned in his speech.
Well-resourced public schools that educate all kids and serve ALL of us as a public good are more important than ever given the threats to our multicultural, multi-racial democracy.
Negotiations on the budget will take place over the next several months. Continued pressure to keep scarce public funds for public schools will be needed!
Here's a couple quick actions you can take this weekend to support the campaign to end IL’s voucher campaign.
✶ Spread the word: Forbes had a great explainer piece from ed writer Peter Greene on Invest in Kids last week. The fact that Illinois even has a voucher program is still unknown to many! Share this link with your networks and then point them to our campaign page to get action alerts:
Forbes The Illinois Voucher Law Is About To Ride Into The Sunset. Will Lawmakers Rescue It, Or Just Wave Goodbye?
✶ Write your state legislators: If you haven’t sent one yet, use this link to send your state rep and state senator a message about sunsetting the Invest in Kids voucher program. (Note: if you’ve been redistricted or have a newly seated legislator, your legislators will auto-populate now!)