Statement on WestEd Evaluation of the Invest in Kids Voucher Program

A report from research group WestEd on the Invest in Kids voucher program was made public this week and further bolsters the wisdom of the decision of the Illinois General Assembly last fall to let the Invest in Kids program sunset.

Voucher supporters continue to push the General Assembly to reinstate the program, but the results in this report simply do not support any new policy that would divert public dollars away from our underfunded public schools that serve all kids to be sent to private, religious schools that discriminate.

Decades of research have now shown that the academic outcomes for voucher students are not better than public school students, and are frequently worse, especially in long-term studies of low-income students. This report does not provide anything new to counter those conclusions. 

Overall, public school students in elementary school outperformed those receiving vouchers; in high school, results were mixed.

The report also demonstrates the fundamental lack of oversight and transparency for a program that our state has spent more than $250 million in tax dollars on in its first five years:

  • This is the first, final and only report, published 5 and 1/2 years into the program, even though the law required annual reports (35 ILCS 40/45a).
  • Voucher student test scores were to be compared with those of public school students who were socioeconomically similar. But voucher schools did not provide researchers with any student-level demographic information (p. 7).
  • Only one year of data for high-school students was available for researchers to analyze (p. 6).
  • Almost three dozen schools were not included in the study because they were missing from the list of registered and recognized schools eligible to receive vouchers (p. 7).
  • The report includes no information on how many voucher recipients were English-language learners or students with disabilities, nor how many previously attended public school.
  • Researchers were not certain whether all eligible students were assessed (p. 14), and found possible duplicates in student records (p.8).

The qualitative section of the report includes evidence for private schools’ lack of support for students with behavior issues, students with disabilities and English-language learners despite the fact that schools receive larger, prorated voucher amounts for students eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and for English-language learners.

We hope that members of the General Assembly and the Governor read this report closely and draw the obvious conclusion from it: public dollars should only be used to fund public schools that serve all kids.