No voucher program extension in the budget!

The Illinois Legislature has (finally!) passed a budget for the 2024 fiscal year, the Senate late on Thursday, and the House very early this morning.

Thankfully, there was NO language to extend the Invest in Kids voucher program or remove its sunset clause in any budget bills.

Capitol News Budget vote brings General Assembly’s 2023 spring session to a close

Chicago Tribune Illinois House sends $50.6 billion state budget to Pritzker

Chalkbeat Chicago Illinois passes 2024 budget with increased funding for K-12, early childhood education

We are relieved that the legislature didn't act to extend a program that funds discrimination and furthers inequity with little oversight, transparency or accountability.

But we're disappointed that two other actual pro-family, pro-child, pro-education initiatives on our legislative agenda, the child tax credit and a boost to the minimum EBF increase, didn’t make it into the FY2024 budget.

Stalemate continues on fate of voucher program

Since before last year’s veto session, IL-FPS, along with more than 55 local, state and national orgs, has been working doggedly to end the state's Invest in Kids voucher scheme.

Thanks to a steady stream of emails, letters, phone calls, constituent meetings, and visits to Springfield made by public school supporters and allies, we stopped any standalone pro-Invest in Kids bills from moving and prevented any extension of Invest in Kids from being added to the state budget.

While the voucher program's fate is still an open question, what's on the books currently is a sunset date of Jan 1, 2025, which means the 2023-2024 school year would be the final one funded by Invest in Kids vouchers.

However, as leaders in Springfield acknowledged this week, the legislature still has time to take this up again in Veto Session and decide whether to keep or end the program.

Please keep talking to friends, family, neighbors, and elected officials about how problematic this program is in the coming months.

Vouchers fund discrimination. Vouchers hurt equity. And they undermine the foundation for democracy–a strong public school system that serves all children. Vouchers are not where Illinois should be directing its far-too-scarce revenue for evidence-based education policies.

Other budget news

In addition to opposing draining $75 million a year from the General Revenue Fund to send to private, almost all religious schools, we supported two progressive funding priorities, the creation of a child tax credit to offset Illinois’ regressive tax system, and raising the minimum annual increase to state school funding. Disappointingly, neither of these made it into the final budget:

✶ EBF increase: In 2017 Illinois passed one of the most progressive school funding formulas in the country, the Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) formula. Unfortunately, the funds distributed under the formula are still billions short from where they should be. The state mandated a deadline for full-funding of all Illinois’ public schools by 2027. That would require an annual increase in state school funding of over $1B a year, but the minimum increase in the law now is just $350 million a year. This means we are decades away from reaching full funding.

IL-FPS is part of the PEER Illinois coalition fighting for full funding for all public schools. We supported a bill to increase that minimum to $550 million. It didn’t go anywhere this spring, and in the end EBF grew by just $350 million again. This is indeed better than no increase (which happened in 2020), and nearly every new dollar put in this formula is distributed to districts that need it most, unlike pre-2017.

But it’s far too little, and waiting until 2054 for full funding of our public school system in a state as wealthy as Illinois, in a country as wealthy as the US, should be unthinkable, not business as usual in budget season.

✶ Child Tax Credit: Illinois has long had one of the most regressive state tax systems in the country, in part because the Illinois constitution bars the state from levying a graduated income tax, and so the state does not have the ability to raise income tax rates only on the people who can afford to pay the most.

There’s no movement at this time around amending the constitution, so we’ve been working with more than 100 other advocacy orgs from around the state to ameliorate the effects of Illinois’ regressive tax policies with tax credits for lower-income brackets. This session the coalition was again pushing for a child tax credit (CTC), originally asking for $700 per child, but even a $300 per child credit for families who make less than $75K annually, which would benefit 1.5 million Illinois kids, didn’t make the cut.

This is a shame! According to our coalition partners at Economic Security for Illinois, $1 spent on a CTC results in $2.50 in local economic stimulus. A Cambridge University review also showed that a child tax credit raised childrens’ future incomes by $1.44 for every $1 invested, improved healthcare outcomes, decreased crime and improved educational achievement.

We need a graduated income tax in Illinois to solve our lack of revenue, and, without a constitutional amendment on the horizon, legislators should be deploying basic pro-family tools like a child tax credit to make things fairer in the meantime.

What’s the takeaway?

The long-term fiscal harm to school funding that a permanent voucher program would cause was narrowly avoided—for now—but public schools and public school families need real structural change in how we raise revenue in Illinois and how we fund schools.

This fall we will fight to end the Invest in Kids voucher program permanently and continue to push legislators to make the changes we need for an equitable public education system: a graduated income tax and other progressive revenue solutions and full state funding for public schools.

The struggle to limit and stop school privatization in Illinois has been a long one. We’ve achieved amazing success this year—in the face of a very well-funded and mobilized opposition—thanks to so many committed supporters of public schools taking collective action!

Let's keep fighting for public funds for strong public schools that serve all kids and benefit everyone.