A Win for Public Schools: Illinois' Invest in Kids voucher program will sunset

Today, the Illinois House adjourned until January 16, 2024 without passing an extension to the Invest in Kids Act. The provisions of the Act begin expiring on January 1, 2024.

This is a huge win for public schools in Illinois. It is also a win for the principle of the separation of church and state and for ensuring public dollars are not used to violate civil rights and are spent with the oversight, transparency and accountability that public spending should require. Public funds must be for public schools that serve all kids.

This is also a historic win for the fight against the privatization of public schools in our country more broadly. We are the first state in the US to roll back an existing voucher scheme.

It was a mistake for the IL General Assembly to pass the Invest in Kids Act in 2017. We are thankful that they listened to a coalition of over 65 local, state and national organizations and let this voucher program sunset as planned. We hope it is paired with a renewed commitment by ILGA to fully resource a system of high-quality public schools for every child and community in our state, a commitment that is in our state constitution but one that we have not yet fulfilled.

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Organizations that endorsed the campaign to sunset Invest in Kids:
Access Living ● ACLU of Illinois  ● Action Ridge ● Activate Chicago Parents ● AFT Local 604 ● American Association of University Women 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 ● Champaign-Urbana Democratic Socialists of America ● Chicago Coalition for the Homeless ● Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights ● Chicago Teachers Union ● Citizen Action/Illinois ● COFI  ● Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600 ● Democratic Women of McDonough County ● ED-RED ● Educational Village Keepers ● 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 Green Party ● Illinois High School District Organization ● Independent Voters of IL - Independent Precinct Organization ● Illinois Moms 4 Change ● Illinois National Organization for Women ● Illinois Parent Teacher Association ● Illinois State Conference NAACP ● Indivisible Chicago ● Indivisible Evanston ● Indivisible Lincoln Square ● JCUA ● Journey for Justice Alliance ● Kenwood Oakland Community Organization ● League of Women Voters of Illinois ● Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois ● Legal Council for Health Justice ● LEND ● Library Defense ● Lugenia Burns Hope Center ● National Association of Social Workers - IL Chapter ● National Council of Jewish Women - Chicago North Shore ● National Council of Jewish Women - South Cook Section ● Network for Public Education ● Network 49 ● Northside Action for Justice ● ONE Northside ● PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois ● Peoria IL NOW ● Pilsen Alliance ● POWER-PAC IL ● Public Funds Public Schools ● Progressives for Democracy in America - Illinois ● Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education ● SCOPE ● Teach Plus ● 39th Ward Neighbors United ● 33rd Ward Working Families ● Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois ● 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 $250 million in tax revenue from the General Revenue Fund over the past five fiscal years. In the 2022-2023 school year, 9,656 students received vouchers to attend 478 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. Because most state and federal civil rights laws do not apply to religious private schools, schools receiving Invest in Kids dollars can discriminate on nearly any basis aside from race. Based on research by Illinois Families for Public Schools, the majority of the schools in the Illinois program discriminated against students, families or staff. Discrimination against students with disabilities and English-language learners was most common, but also discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy or parenting status, immigration status, and more.

Minimal data is available to the public on participating students and schools in the voucher program. 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 annually, more than five years into the program, no reporting on test scores have ever 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.