Dark money in school board races; more (disturbing) examples of voucher discrimination; and more

School board races are being flooded with dark money

Tuesday April 4th is voting day for local elections—including school boards—throughout Illinois. That’s when Chicago holds its municipal run-offs for mayor and many city council seats. And, outside of Chicago, in addition to school boards, library boards and village boards (or city council) elections take place on April 4th as well. 

School board races are critical for how education is shaped at the most local level in Illinois. Through both their policy and fiscal decisions, local boards can make a huge impact. 

Districts need school board members who are able to tackle the real problems schools face right now—adequacy of funding, mental health supports, services for students with disabilities, the teacher shortage—and who will look for solutions that can benefit all the students in a district.

Unfortunately, in many communities, school board races are now also proxy wars for bigger forces. As we’ve been sharing for more than a year, school boards and school communities have been under attack by anti-public school, anti-democracy, anti-equality groups, and they're now also playing a role in school (and library!) board elections.

WBEZ: Outside conservative groups back candidates as school board races become ideological battlegrounds

These groups want to end programs for diversity, equity and inclusion and social-emotional learning; ban books that address race or gender identity; stop teachers from providing accurate information about race and racial injustice—historic and in the present day; and dismantle supports for LGBTQ+ students and students with disabilities. And they are part of a national movement to discredit public education with a broader goal of privatizing the public ed system and destroying a pluralistic, small d-democratic society that works for all.

Encouragingly, communities are organizing to push back. This past Saturday we co-sponsored a pro-public school, pro-equality “Our Schools Aren't For Sale!” rally in Kendall County with grassroots group Parents for Progress and PFLAG.


The rally brought together parents and community members from throughout the collar counties in response to a campaign event sponsored by Awake IL. That event featured a speaker from an out-of-state chapter of the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Gays for Groomers

Northern Public Radio: Oswego community members protest national political influence in local school board race 

Shaw Local: Rally defends diversity in Oswego SD308: ‘Our community will not be bullied, threatened or bought’

Awake IL moved their free champagne-and-dinner campaign event to another location, but parents and community gathered to rally anyway to call out the involvement of dark-money national extremist orgs who have been active on the ground in many districts in the suburbs and beyond. 

If you want to read more about those groups, we’ve put together a directory that we think will be useful for voters researching candidates and slates as we near April 4th:

IL-FPS: Dark money orgs on the ground in school board races in Illinois

We’re also compiling other resources to assist voters in thoroughly vetting who's on their April 4th ballots: who’s funding them, who’s training them, what policies will they support if elected, and what’s their vision for a public school district that must serve all kids and the public good:

IL-FPS: School board elections are coming up: Research before you vote! 

Let us know about candidate guides and resources that you find if we don’t have them listed yet: [email protected].


More disturbing examples of discrimination in the Invest in Kids voucher program

As you know, IL-FPS is working on a campaign to end Illinois’ Invest in Kids voucher program. One of the major issues with Invest in Kids is that religious schools receiving voucher funds can—and do!—discriminate against students, families and staff in almost all protected categories: disability status, religion, LGBTQ+ status, etc. 

Earlier in March the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Illinois Attorney General released a new guide on the protections for Illinois residents against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, parenting or marital status.

Unfortunately, these protections don’t extend to students applying to or enrolled at Invest in Kids schools, and we’ve found numerous examples of pregnancy, parenting and marital status discrimination written into school policies, like these:


See our website or social media for more (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.) The examples of discrimination we’ve collected so far cover more than 25% of the schools receiving Invest in Kids vouchers last year. It’s past time for our state to stop sending public dollars to private schools that refuse to serve all kids! 


New research on vouchers

Two new research reports are out with even more damning evidence that vouchers hurt public schools and mostly help wealthier families. Last week Public Funds Public Schools, a project of the Education Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a report, "The Fiscal Consequences of Private School Vouchers," examining the growth in voucher programs in seven states including Wisconsin and Indiana. One of many disturbing findings: “At the same time funding for vouchers climbed significantly in these seven states, the portion of state GDP allocated to K-12 public education decreased, even though public school enrollment grew over the same period in five of the seven states.”

Earlier this month, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy put out a new brief, “Tax Avoidance Continues to Fuel School Privatization Efforts,” documenting how tax credit scholarship-style voucher schemes like Illinois’ are especially damaging because they benefit wealthy families. The brief highlights marketing material from Fenwick High School—a private school in Oak Park that received at least $745K last year via Invest in Kids—that extols the “double tax savings” of “contributing long-term appreciated stock to an [Scholarship Granting Organization] (thus avoiding capital gains tax).” Fenwick has a private foundation whose invest income alone would cover the funds they are receiving from Invest in Kids.

There are two months left in the Illinois legislature’s spring session, and your state rep and state senator need to keep hearing from their constituents who believe public funds must be for public schools. Please write (or call!) your state legislators to urge them to ensure the Invest in Kids voucher program sunsets. Both of these reports are compelling info to share with legislators as well.


Hear even more about vouchers...

  • IL-FPS director Cassie Creswell was interviewed on The Ben Joravsky Show in February talking about Invest in Kids, the existing use of vouchers in Chicago and what the implications of the Chicago mayoral race are for vouchers in the city.
  • For more on not just vouchers but how else the mayoral runoff results could impact public schools in Chicago, listen to this recent episode of WBAI’s Talk Out of School education radio show where host Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and co-chair of the Parent Coalition of Student Privacy, also talks with Cassie about an election where public ed issues loom large.