Four out of five Illinoisans would opt out of traditional Illinois public schools if they had the ability to send their children elsewhere.
The irony is that by empowering parents with more flexibility to opt out, the public schools themselves will improve and can become world class performers. Today they are laggards.
The stunning fact cited above comes from a poll released by the Illinois Policy Institute in conjunction with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. The poll asked 1,500 likely voters from across the state, "If it was your decision and you could select any type of school, what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child?" Eighty-one percent said that they would prefer to send their children to schools other than traditional public schools.
This sentiment among voters in Illinois tells us that mother and father know what is best for their children. The fact is that Illinois schools continue to rank in the bottom half nationally in performance by almost any measure.
The Illinois Policy Institute joined with four other organizations, including the Friedman Foundation, to discuss the poll results at a press conference in Springfield on Tuesday, December 11th. The organizations called upon lawmakers to review the poll results and to consider new legislation aimed at giving parents more control over where their children go to school. Two specific actions that legislators should consider include lifting the artificial cap on charters, particularly in the Chicago area where 10,000 children languish on waiting lists, and to expand the popular education tax credit from $500 to $4,000 per student.
These reforms are essential to improve the options available to the nearly eight-seven percent of school-aged children who attend a public school in Illinois. These children are all assigned to schools not by individual needs or parent preference, but by the whims of geography. This particularly penalizes poor and disadvantaged students living in districts with chronically failing schools.
The poll demonstrated that:
- By a 2-to-1 margin (39 percent to 19), Illinoisans would prefer to enroll their children in private schools, rather than public schools.
- 23 percent of Illinoisans would prefer to send their children to charter schools
- 19 percent would prefer their children to be educated completely outside of a formal school setting, either through homeschooling (17 percent) or via a virtual school (2 percent).
However, few parents have the ability to access any schooling option other than their government-assigned public school. According to the poll, Illinoisans are not happy about that. Those polled were asked to rate Illinois' public school system and only one-in-four Illinoisans held a favorable opinion of the public schools, despite the fact that Illinois spends over $10,000 per pupil in the public schools.
In the wake of the poll's findings, the Illinois Policy Institute outlined two reforms that would instantly give parents the choices they desired.
The Institute's proposal of removing the artificial charter cap and to expand the education tax credit, are urgently needed:
- Statewide, fewer than one percent of students are enrolled in charter schools – a type of public school operated by independent, non-profit organizations. Yet, twenty-three percent of Illinoisans would prefer to send their children to charter schools.
- Nearly ten thousand families are on waiting lists to enroll in Chicago's charter schools. Yet, the regional cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open in Chicago prevents more charter schools from opening to meet that demand. Meanwhile the children languish in a less effective public school.
- Thirty-nine percent of Illinoisans would prefer to send their children to private schools in order to receive the best possible education.
- Tax credits provide families with financial assistance for private school tuition; a $4,000 tax credit would allow every Illinois family to access the private market for education and to send their child to a private school of their choice.
We already have a program of educational choice in the United States in our post-secondary system (colleges, universities, trade schools, etc.). While our K-12 educational system ranks among the worst of the industrialized countries, our post-secondary system is the envy of the world. We have world class public institutions competing effectively with private institutions in a more open market where parents and students use both private and public money to pay for the school of their choice.
The Illinois Policy Institute's recommendations will create a public education system that is more like our world class post-secondary system and we will see our public schools improve and thrive as a result. When the schools thrive, so will the children.
For more details on the poll, click here.