Why are Charles Koch & his rightwing billionaire friends trying to “save” Illinois’ voucher program?

A group founded and funded by the far-right billionaire Koch brothers, Americans For Prosperity, is making a new push in Illinois to stop the Invest in Kids voucher program from sunsetting. We're not taking it lightly, and neither should our General Assembly and Governor.


We shared information about Americans For Prosperity earlier this year in our Dark Money Directory because they were one of many national groups that were on the ground in Illinois to elect extremist candidates for local school boards.

They've long supported the Invest in Kids voucher program. (See here and here.) 

And now they are making a new push to “save” the program from the scheduled sunset with events last week in Palatine and tomorrow (Monday) in Wheaton with State Rep Amy Grant.

They’re also planning a pro-Invest in Kids rally in Springfield for later this month (“Everything will be free (meals, transportation)...”)

Why does a group of out-of-state billionaires care so much about the fate of Illinois’ voucher program?

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is the core of the national network of dark-money political and lobbying orgs founded by billionaire brothers Charles and (the late) David Koch. The Koch network bundles money not just from Koch Industries, but from “hundreds of other wealthy conservative families” including the DeVos family.

So, why is this national organization, whose annual revenue alone could cover the cost of the Illinois voucher program, attempting to stop the scheduled sunset? Why wouldn’t the wealthy backers of AFP just write out checks to support private school scholarships rather than lobbying in statehouses throughout the US to create and expand voucher schemes?

The goals of AFP and the rest of the Koch network are ideological and radical: a nearly complete dismantling of the public good and the public revenue we use to fund public goods –  infrastructure, healthcare, education. 

Their wealthy funders want to undermine voting rights and free elections, workers rights, environmental protections and have long worked to roll back all of the progressive government programs established over the course of the 20th century.

Public schools are one of those public goods they want destroyed and replaced with a privatized system. 

Compared to universal voucher programs elsewhere many of which already cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the Invest in Kids voucher program may not look significant. About 9,600 students participated in Illinois last year funded with $56M from our General Revenue Fund. But that’s exactly the point. Groups like AFP, Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, and the Illinois Policy Institute see Invest in Kids as a foot in the door in Illinois for future growth of a permanent program.

That’s one of the key reasons Illinois’ voucher program should end. Vouchers are costly, and those costs ultimately come out of the funding for public schoolsschools that serve 1.9 million kids in Illinois, and 80% of those schools are underfunded!

The Illinois General Assembly has a unique opportunity to draw a line in the sand against privatization of a public good by letting Invest in Kids sunset. If billionaires want to support scholarships for private schools, they’re free to do so, but they surely don’t need a tax break from the state of Illinois.

What can you do? Keep fighting!