More than 50 local, state and national organizations are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to ensure Illinois’ Invest in Kids voucher program ends as intended after the coming school year. Full press release below.
For Immediate Release
March 8, 2023
Contact: Cassie Creswell, IL Families for Public Schools, [email protected], 773-916-7794
PRO-PUBLIC SCHOOLS COALITION CALLS FOR ILLINOIS’ SCHOOL VOUCHER PROGRAM TO END
GROUPS URGE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO USE PUBLIC FUNDS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
SPRINGFIELD, IL – More than 50 local, state and national organizations are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to ensure Illinois’ Invest in Kids voucher program ends as intended after the coming school year. Since it began, the program has diverted more than $190 million in tax dollars to hundreds of religious schools around the state that are not required to follow most federal and state anti-discrimination laws, many of which are discriminating against children on the basis of disability status, LGBTQ+ status, religion, pregnancy status and more.
Supporting the campaign to end the program are community organizations; faith based groups; the state’s biggest teachers unions, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers; civil rights advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Illinois, Equality Illinois and Access Living; and public education advocacy groups.
"The IFT has opposed the Invest In Kids program since the day it was passed in 2017. This program is not an investment in kids, but a loophole for diverting public funding toward harmful school privatization efforts. It gives a huge tax break to the wealthy while taking funds from the kids in public schools who need it the most,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “The private schools who then benefit have zero accountability and aren’t required to adhere to state standards. Our public school students in Illinois need and deserve every bit of funding they can get from our state budget. We call on leaders in the state legislature to keep public funding in public schools and commit to ending this program.”
The Invest in Kids Act is scheduled to sunset after the 2023-2024 school year, but supporters have been lobbying intensely for it to continue and grow. Legislators have introduced bills to eliminate the program but also bills to extend and expand it so far this session. Governor Pritzker’s budget book for Fiscal Year 2024 did not include the program.
“Illinois is not currently fully funding the evidence-based school funding formula. Four out of five of our schools are not funded appropriately. Until we fully fund Illinois public schools, which provide an education for ALL students, tax credits, which are essentially school vouchers, should not be available to fund private and religious schools,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association. “In addition, there is no meaningful data being collected for this program. We don’t know how many students, new to the schools, this voucher scheme is funding; the retention rate of students attending; learning outcomes or the impact on enrollment at nearby schools.”
Invest in Kids is a statewide program, but vouchers and school privatization are now an issue in Chicago’s mayoral runoff, where candidate Paul Vallas supports extending Invest in Kids and is calling for the creation of a new voucher program for Chicago funded through tax-increment financing. His opponent Brandon Johnson wants the Invest in Kids program to end and opposes further school privatization. In 2021-2022, about 4100 Chicago students were voucher recipients, and Chicago private schools received at least $31 million in Invest in Kids voucher funding. The shortfall in state funding for Chicago Public Schools this year was about $1.1 billion, according to the Partnership for Equity and Education Rights Illinois, a statewide school funding advocacy coalition.
About 95% of Illinois private schools receiving vouchers are religious, and anti-discrimination laws mostly do not apply to religious schools. Discrimination by schools receiving Invest in Kids vouchers in admissions and other policies is widespread based on research by advocacy group Illinois Families for Public Schools ( IL-FPS). IL-FPS has found examples—from dozens of schools receiving millions of dollars—of policies that discriminate against students on the basis of disability status, LGBTQ+ status, English-language learner status, religion, pregnancy status and more.
"At a time of vicious attacks on LGBTQ+ youth across the country, Illinois must ensure public benefits are dedicated to serving the good of all youth, including LGBTQ+ youth," said Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois and a former first grade teacher. "Public funds and tax credits should not be used to support private schools that are empowered to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students and families. Public support of institutions which discriminate is contrary to the values of the State of Illinois, and we join with the coalition to support the Invest in Kids sunset."
Only 15% of 471 schools receiving vouchers reported enrolling any special education students in 2021-2022, compared with 100% of the state's more than 3800 public schools. Some voucher recipient schools require parents to pay for any extra services a child with a disability needs or refuse to admit them altogether. Some have policies on the books to discipline or even expel students who are openly LGBTQ+, have undergone an abortion or become pregnant, or have academic or behavior problems due to a disability, none of which is permitted for public schools.
“Illinois is still billions away from adequately funding our public schools. Research shows vouchers don’t improve academic outcomes. Scarce state dollars must go to public schools to fund what we know works—small classes, nurses, librarians, modern facilities—not be diverted to private schools that refuse to serve all kids,” said Cassie Creswell, director of Illinois Families for Public Schools.
The Invest in Kids Act passed in 2017 under former Governor Bruce Rauner as part of a compromise with legislative leaders at the time, Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, to resolve a multi-year budget crisis and create a new evidence-based formula for distributing state funding to public schools. The state’s Evidence-Based Funding formula distributes new state funding dollars for K-12 public education more equitably, but overall state funding levels are about $4 billion short of what the formula requires, with 80% of Illinois public schools still not adequately funded.
“Vouchers are a tool for inequity. Born in Chile to create one of the most inequitable education systems in the world, vouchers are not in the best interest of students from disadvantaged communities. Equity in course offerings, class sizes, wraparound supports, student discipline and community engagement is the evidence-based solution, ” said Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance.
The creation of programs to fund privatized K-12 school options around the country has accelerated in recent years, including traditional vouchers, tax credit scholarship programs like Invest in Kids, and even more damaging educational savings accounts (ESAs). Last month Iowa’s legislature passed a program that will grow from $107 million to $341 million over its first four years. Indiana and Wisconsin’s programs cost $241 million and $444 million, respectively, last year alone.
“Voucher bills hiding behind names like ‘scholarship accounts’ and ‘freedom accounts’ are popping up across the nation. Don't be fooled—attempts to push this unpopular legislation are funded by billionaires who want to privatize public schools. It is heartening to see a fight in Illinois to reverse this trend, where public school supporters are organizing to end a program that diverts public dollars to unaccountable private schools," said Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.
Organizations that have endorsed the campaign to sunset Invest in Kids:
Access Living, ACLU of Illinois, Action Ridge, Activate Chicago Parents, American Association of University Women of Illinois, American Association of University Women Naperville Area, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, BG Pride, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Chicago Teachers Union, COFI, ED-RED, Equality Illinois, Families 4 Students and Teachers, 50th Ward Working Families, 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice, Healing to Action, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Families for Public Schools, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois High School District Organization, Illinois National Organization for Women, Illinois Parent Teacher Association, Indivisible Chicago, Indivisible Evanston, Indivisible Lincoln Square, JCUA, Journey for Justice Alliance, League of Women Voters of Illinois, Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, Legal Council for Health Justice, LEND, Library Defense, National Association of Social Workers - Illinois Chapter, Network for Public Education, Network 49, Northside Action for Justice, PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois, Pilsen Alliance, POWER-PAC IL, Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, SCOPE, Teach Plus, 39th Ward Neighbors United, 33rd Ward Working Families, Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois, and United Northwest Side.
More about the Invest in Kids voucher program
The Illinois General Assembly passed the Invest in Kids Act in 2017, creating a tax credit scholarship-style voucher program, where contributors, in exchange for a 75% tax credit, pay scholarship granting organizations (SGOs). SGOs then distribute the funds in the form of voucher payments to private schools to cover the costs of tuition for students who meet certain criteria. Tax credit scholarship voucher programs are designed to circumvent prohibitions on using public funds for religious purposes, like the one in the Illinois constitution, by routing vouchers through the middleman SGOs.
SGOs can use up to 5% of the contributions they receive for operations, including lobbying, and are leading the effort in Springfield to make the program permanent and grow, supported by umbrella organizations representing schools that get vouchers, including Agudath Israel of Illinois and the Catholic Conference of Illinois, and anti-public school groups like Betsy Devos’ Illinois Federation for Children and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.
Since it started, the Invest in Kids program has diverted more than $193 million in tax revenue from the General Revenue Fund over the past four fiscal years. In the 2021-2022 school year, 9,000 students received vouchers to attend 471 private schools, 95% of them religious. Private schools must be recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education in order to accept vouchers, but little oversight is exercised over schools after recognition.
Minimal data is available to the public on participating students and schools. The Illinois Department of Revenue, the state agency administering the tax credits, does not share the total amount of tax revenue granted to each school nor even the precise number of students enrolled.
Although schools are required to administer state tests to students receiving vouchers, more than five years into the program, no test scores have been released by the Illinois State Board of Education. Research studies of large, long-standing voucher programs in Ohio, Louisiana, Washington DC and Indiana show that voucher programs lower academic achievement.
About Illinois Families for Public Schools
Illinois Families for Public Schools (IL-FPS) is a statewide, grassroots, non-profit 501c4 advocacy group that represents the interests of Illinois public school families founded in 2016. IL-FPS is the voice in Springfield for systemic policy change to defend and improve Illinois public schools. More at ilfps.org.