Chicago Public Schools dysfunction hits low-income, minority students

Chicago Public Schools dysfunction hits low-income, minority students

Spring test data shows low-income and minority students in Chicago Public Schools continue to record low proficiency rates. The Chicago Teachers Union wants to kill a school choice program that could help those students.

Low-income students are struggling to meet proficiency in Chicago Public Schools: only 19% read at grade level and 11% are proficient in math.

There are few avenues for these students to improve their situation. The Invest in Kids Act provides a choice for families and students who can’t afford schooling options outside the public system but are seeking a better fit beyond traditional neighborhood schools. But the Chicago Teachers Union is working aggressively to eliminate Illinois’ only school choice program.

If CTU and its allies get their way, over 9,600 low-income students across the state will lose their scholarships to attend private schools. Most of those students are Black and Hispanic, and most scholarship recipients’ families live on less than $49,025 for a family of four.

Spring test data shows achievement gaps, particularly among low-income and minority students

The Illinois State Board of Education recently released test data from spring 2023. It shows Chicago Public Schools students are not receiving the preparation they need to perform proficiently in core subjects. This problem is even more acute among low-income students and Black and Hispanic students.

Just 19% of 3rd- through 8th-grade students from low-income families met proficiency standards in reading and 11% in math this spring. The proficiency rate of Chicago low-income students was seven percentage points lower in reading and math compared to the district average.

The disparity in performance is similar among Chicago public high school students. This spring, just 14% of low-income 11th grade students met reading proficiency and 12% met math goals on the Standardized Achievement Test used for college admissions. The proficiency rate for low-income high school students on the SAT was eight percentage points lower than the districtwide in reading and seven percentage points lower in math.

Black and Hispanic students also struggled to meet proficiency, especially compared to white and Asian students. Just 17% of Black students in grades 3 through 8 scored at proficiency in reading and 8% in math, while 22% of Hispanic students scored at grade level in reading and 13% in math.

Meanwhile, 54% of white students were proficient in reading and 48% in math. Asian students scored as proficient in core subjects at greater rates, with over half reading and performing math at or above grade level.

Demographic achievement gaps were also prevalent among high school students in CPS. This spring, a lower proportion of Black and Hispanic students scored as proficient on the SAT in both reading and math compared to white and Asian students.

The Invest in Kids tax scholarship program offers options

The Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program offers families more choice in their children’s educations, despite unwarranted opposition from the Chicago Teachers Union. The program could die at the end of 2023.

The Invest in Kids Act encourages donors to fund scholarships for low-income children so they can attend a school of their choice. Donors who contribute to a scholarship-granting organization get an income tax credit equal to 75% of their donation. The state limits the program to $75 million per year.

Students must come from a household with an income at or below 300% of the federal poverty level to be eligible for a scholarship, but most are much more disadvantaged than that. The household income of the majority of families who received scholarships in the 2022-2023 school year was the equivalent of just $49,025 or less for a family of four. Of those families, 27% live below the poverty line.

The program expands options for these families who want to send their child to a private school but can’t afford the tuition.

Tax credit scholarship program benefits thousands of Black, Hispanic students

Most students receive their scholarships through Empower Illinois, the largest scholarship granting organization in the state. They reported in 2022 at least 53% of the students receiving scholarships were Black or Hispanic. Similarly, Big Shoulders Fund, another large scholarship granting organization in Illinois, reported over 50% of students receiving its scholarships were Black or Latino.

A proven solution: school choice

School choice programs such as the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program could improve the academic declines facing Illinois and the achievement gaps between demographic groups.

Milwaukee Public Schools serves as an example. It is the largest school district in Wisconsin and more than 75% of its students are Black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the oldest school choice program of its kind and gives nearly 29,000 Milwaukee students an average of more than $10,000 in scholarships each year to put toward tuition at a school of their family’s choice. Studies have found the program reduced racial segregation in Milwaukee while improving test scores in both private schools and traditional public schools.

The Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program is Illinois’ take on offering parents and students more flexibility in school options.

A recent poll by a research firm popular among Democrats showed all voters, but especially minority and low-income voters, strongly support the Illinois program.

State lawmakers continue veto session on Nov. 7-9, which is their last chance to extend the program before it expires at the end of 2023. Contacting your state lawmakers and asking about their stance on Invest in Kids can help remind them a popular program that can change the life of an impoverished child needs their attention.

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