Last week, voucher supporters, including Empower IL—the largest of the middlemen orgs that process vouchers and skim millions of taxpayer dollars off the top as they do so—launched a public relations campaign to “save” the Invest in Kids voucher program from sunsetting. Unfortunately, their PR push is rife with misinformation.
Here’s some facts you need to know about the program that voucher cheerleaders aren’t sharing:
☞ FACT: Vouchers students can continue to receive scholarships after the program ends.
Because the Invest in Kids voucher program is set up as a tax credit scholarship scheme, the voucher-scholarships don't need to end when the law sunsets.
Rather than getting a 75% tax credit from Illinois when they write a check to a voucher middleman, wealthy benefactors would instead get a federal deduction for making a donation to a private school or scholarship fund—just like they did before the Invest in Kids program existed.
Why should Illinois heavily subsidize contributions to private schools but not ones to other charitable causes? Why isn’t 37% back from the feds sufficient for wealthy donors rather than 75% back from the state of Illinois? Illinois has had a robust private school industry for more than a century—without public subsidies.
☞ FACT: A thriving public school system that serves all children cannot exist alongside a publicly-funded private system.
Well-known media figure Father Pfleger, who hosted the pro-voucher event at St. Sabina, a school in Chicago funded with Invest in Kids dollars, was in the news asking “why can’t we have both” a voucher program and well-resourced public schools?
Why can’t we? Because religious schools, even those getting vouchers, do not have to educate all kids. They can legally discriminate against nearly all protected classes, including students with disabilities and English-language learners.
Siphoning public dollars away to private schools that discriminate creates a two-tiered, segregated system that has fewer resources left in public schools to educate the very students who need more.
Father Pfleger’s own parish school, St. Sabina Academy, is a prime example of this. According to the most recent ISBE data, St. Sabina served between 1 and 9 special education students out of a total enrollment of 157 students. Meanwhile the public schools nearby enroll anywhere from 12% to more than 25% students with Individualized Education Plans (and even a nearby charter serves 10% SWDs.)
The Archdiocese of Chicago website states only that some schools “work to include students with various learning requirements.”
Earlier this year, when asked about where to enroll a student with an IEP, Empower IL shared a list of only 20 schools that supported IEPs out of the 442 private schools they process vouchers for!
☞ FACT: One-quarter of voucher funds went to just one of Illinois’ 59 State Senate districts last year.
Illinois’ public schools serve almost 1.9 MILLION Illinois kids, and 80% of those schools are underfunded by the state. The voucher program served just over 9,600 private school students last school year, with funds concentrated in just a few schools in a few areas.
[Note: the Illinois Department of Revenue reports so little information on Invest in Kids that we can only calculate the minimum each school is receiving, not the total. This map and table only cover known spending, leaving about $10 million unaccounted for in 2022-2023.)
Help us spread the facts about vouchers in Illinois and why they must end:
✶ The League of Women Voters of Illinois is hosting a webinar on Tuesday Sept 26th at 6pm: “Why We're Fighting School Vouchers,” Invite your friends and neighbors to learn more about this vital issue for our public schools. Register to attend here.
✶ Print and share our new zine Vouchers: An Attack on Public Schools and the Public Good! This is a quick way to get someone informed on what might seem like a dry public policy debate!
Please reach out if you have questions, ideas or to let us know what you are hearing from your own legislators: [email protected]