Public funds should be for underfunded public schools in Illinois

Private schools in the 8th Senate District enrolled about 1,300 voucher students last year. Public schools enrolled more than 22,000 students, and 13,739 of those were in underfunded schools.

So, state legislators in the 8th Senate District and 15th and 16th House Districts are representing many families of students receiving vouchers but also at least ten times as many families of students that attend underfunded public schools. Public schools in the 8th District are short more than $47 million in state funding each year ($11M in House 16, $36M in House 15.) 

Chicago Public Schools as a whole is only at about 75% of the funding needed to adequately serve its student population. It’s missing about $1.2 billion in state funding and facing a $391 million budget deficit next school year.

Sen Villivalam, Rep Kelly, and Rep Olickal together represent 10 times as many students in underfunded public schools than students receiving vouchers. Where do their policy priorities lie? 

Well, one of the most active pro-voucher lobbying groups in Springfield, Agudath Israel of IL, reporting on an event they held this summer said Sen Villivalam, Rep Kelly, and Rep Olickal, “expressed unequivocal support and pledged to fight for extending the [Invest in Kids] scholarship program.” (Boldface ours.)



(Sidenote: Like many pro-voucher groups, Agudath Israel’s support for school vouchers is in line with many of their other policy positions; they oppose abortion rights, gay marriage and applauded the Supreme Court decision in June affirming discrimination by religious institutions.)

In conversations with Sen. Villivalam and Rep Olickal about ending Invest in Kids, their primary concern has been whether students now using vouchers will be able to stay enrolled in private school. We’ve explained that donors can continue to fund scholarships; they’ll just have to claim a federal deduction (worth about 37% of the value of a contribution) rather than getting a hefty 75% tax credit. 

In fact, although Illinois hasn’t even bothered collecting data on where voucher students previously attended school, nationally, most students receiving vouchers for the first time never attended public school. So, voucher programs are mostly subsidizing families who would choose private school no matter what. 

In addition, there are large amounts of churn in the Invest in Kids voucher program. There’s no student-level data, but at the school level, just last year, 40 new schools joined the Illinois voucher program and 33 dropped out. Nationally, the churn within existing voucher programs at the student level year to year is very large; 20-30% of students leave the program each year.


As a stark illustration of this, the state’s largest voucher funding recipient in 2022-2023, a private school located in the 8th Senate Dist, had a dramatic drop in voucher students and funds between the 2021-2022 and  2022-2023 school years: 184 fewer voucher recipients and a $1.9M decrease in vouchers. That’s almost 1/3 fewer students and 28% fewer dollars. However, despite their funding from Invest in Kids plummeting, the enrollment at this school increased in 2022-2023 by about 70 students or 5%.

Sen Villivalam and many legislators think it's possible to have both fully funded public schools and private vouchers. It’s not. As the recent study by Public Funds, Public Schools shows, fiscal consequences of vouchers have been dire for public school funding around the country, including our Midwestern neighbors, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.  

A two-tier publicly funded system drains money from already underfunded public schools and the students who private schools refuse to admit. This undermines a public good that benefits everyone, not just students and their families.

In the 8th Senate District, public schools are serving 3.5 times as many students and a far needier student population compared with the private schools getting millions in vouchers: 46% low-income, 24% English-language learners, 13% with IEPs, 65% students of color. The private schools in the 8th district getting vouchers enroll 28% low-income students, an unknown number of English-language learners, 2 % special ed students and are only 12% students of color.studentdemographics8thsenate.png

State Senator Ram Villivalam, State Rep Kevin Olickal, and State Rep Mike Kelly support extending the harmful, discriminatory Invest in Kids voucher program, which is set to sunset after this school year.

If they're your legislators, please take a minute today to call and let them both know that their obligation as members of the General Assembly is to fully fund public schools in Illinois. Extending the Invest in Kids Act diverts tax dollars to private schools that refuse to serve all kids.

Sen Villivalam: (872) 208-5188 and (217) 782-5500

Rep Olickal: (847) 673-1131 and  (217) 782-1252

Rep Kelly: (773) 736-0218 and (217) 782-8198

Make sure your legislators keep hearing from you no matter who they are. Illinois has a constitutional obligation to fund high-quality public schools as a common good that benefits all. It’s the underfunded public schools in their districts whose doors are open to everyone that need their “unequivocal support”! 

More data on public vs voucher-funded schools in state legislative districts: