Giving Illinois’ children a second escape route from bad schools – Chicago Tribune
Great news: Thousands of Illinois children trapped in dismally performing classrooms soon will have places other than charter schools to break free and learn.
These schoolchildren will receive tuition scholarships for private schools, thanks to a $100 million program starting in the 2018-19 school year.
This five-year program — which we hope becomes permanent — is part of a sweeping Illinois school funding overhaul. It will use money from donors to educate low- and moderate-income students.
Students get a chance for a better education. Donors get a 75-cent tax credit for every dollar. And Illinois joins many other states in dramatically expanding school choice beyond charter schools. Win-win-win.
“This is the largest initial startup of any (scholarship tax credit) program in the country,” Scott Jensen of the American Federation for Children tells us. “And it’s the largest blue state to ever approve such a program. It’s going to help a lot of kids.”
Take a bow, all you Democratic and Republican lawmakers who bucked the intense teachers union lobbying against this initiative.
How determined are the unions to keep kids from fleeing to better-performing and often safer schools? You decide. Here’s the Chicago Teachers Union’s way-over-the-top reaction after the bill that included the scholarship program passed the House: “Illinois legislators have voted to ‘reform’ the worst school funding system in the country with a ticking time bomb of a voucher scheme and the Illinois Democratic Party has crossed a line which no spin or talk of ‘compromise’ can ever erase,” the union tweeted. The CTU can say whatever it wants, although we wish the public education industry would stop calling the scholarship program a voucher scheme. For what seems like the 99th time: This isn’t a voucher program.
Nor is $100 million profligate. By comparison, Illinois school districts spent $31.2 billion on 2 million students in 2015-16.
This superb if too limited move by Illinois lawmakers is all the more dramatic because across the nation, unions and their pet politicians are mounting a ferocious campaign to stomp out school choice. Never mind the strong public support for choice programs, most notably among African-Americans whose children have been treated so shabbily by big-city public schools (and big-city politicians). Among the opponents’ increasingly desperate moves against choice:
- In Chicago, the backlash against charter schools has been so fierce that few new schools have been authorized in recent years. What a shame for students stuck on wait lists. Stanford researchers report that several of Chicago’s largest charter school chains are jamming more than a year’s worth of learning into a single school year. Students at The Noble Network of Charter Schools received the equivalent of nearly two years’ worth of math in a single year, according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. Students at the predominantly Hispanic UNO Charter School Network, now Acero Charter Schools, gained about 29 extra days of learning in math and 23 days in reading. Any wonder that parents with children at a poorly performing public school, yet unable to afford the private schools that more affluent families patronize, would want to transfer their kids to a high-quality charter?
- The NAACP has urged a nationwide charter expansion moratorium, asserting that charters have aggravated school segregation, eroded local control of schools, wasted public money and disproportionately disciplined minority students. These attacks are often grossly exaggerated or incorrect but also effective: One recent poll released by a national education journal showed that 39 percent of Americans support charters, down from 51 percent a year earlier. That’s not a reflection of suddenly poor performance; by most measures, charters rank high in family satisfaction and in educational achievement. Rather, that poll drop likely reflects the frantic efforts of opponents to discredit charters.
- In a July speech to union delegates, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten blasted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a “public-school denier” and suggested that school choice has its roots in “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and homophobia.” Weingarten’s peculiar overreach was a desperate attempt to convince parents they shouldn’t move their children from subpar public schools to charters. In other words, it’s an argument about full employment for teachers union members, not for better educating America’s school students.
- In Arizona, anti-choice forces are pushing for a November 2018 referendum to roll back a law that allows parents to receive their child’s share of state education funding to pay for private school tuition, home-schooling costs, and tutoring. Nobody honestly asserts that this de facto protection of public school jobs would be “for the children.”
In many homes across Illinois, a new school year brings mingled emotions among students and their parents — anticipation, anxiety, hope. But in too many homes there’s only one reaction: Dread, because parents are forced to send their children to dangerous or dead-end schools. They don’t have, or can’t afford, a better choice. A better chance.
That changes now, if only for a limited number of Illinois children. Watch the long line of students and their parents who’ll apply for these scholarships. Jensen estimates that 15,000 to 20,000 youngsters will gain scholarships annually once the program ramps up.
Think of them as the fortunate vanguard in a new era of Illinois school choice. May it succeed and grow.
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