Illinois is losing the school choice race
It’s common knowledge that Illinois lags behind other states when it comes to embracing education reforms. But a new report recently released by the Friedman Foundation shows just how much catching up the state has to do. The 2014 edition of the Foundation’s “The ABCs of School Choice” highlights every school choice program in the...
It’s common knowledge that Illinois lags behind other states when it comes to embracing education reforms. But a new report recently released by the Friedman Foundation shows just how much catching up the state has to do.
The 2014 edition of the Foundation’s “The ABCs of School Choice” highlights every school choice program in the country.
There are currently four different types of school choice programs:
- Opportunity scholarships: Allow parents to use public money to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs.
- Education savings accounts: Allow parents to withdraw their children from a public school and receive a deposit into government-authorized savings accounts that can only be used for approved educational expenses – e.g., private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, etc.
- Tax-credit scholarships: Allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofit organizations that provide private school scholarships. Eligible students receive scholarships via the nonprofit organizations.
- Individual tax credits/deductions: Allow parents to receive state income tax relief for approved educational expenses, which can include private school tuition, books, supplies, computers, tutors and transportation.
Arizona leads the country with the most school programs – five – followed closely by Louisiana with four.
Though it may come as a surprise, Illinois has a school choice program. Unfortunately, it’s so small and restrictive that barely anyone can use it.
The Illinois Tax Credits for Educational Expenses Program allows individuals to claim a credit for approved educational expenses – tuition, books, lab or activity fees, etc. – for dependent students attending a public school, a private school or who are homeschooled. The nonrefundable credit is worth 25 percent of their expenditures after the first $250, up to a credit of $500 per family, meaning that a family would have to spend at least $2,250 and have a tax liability of at least $500 to receive a credit.
In 2011 – the last year the state collected data on the program – only 293,000 taxpayers participated, receiving an average credit of $277.
Compare that to Arizona’s Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program, through which nearly 24,000 students receive scholarships averaging $1,910 that they can use at 347 participating schools.
Illinois has a long way to go bring meaningful school choice to the Land of Lincoln.
Students – especially those at the state’s lowest-performing schools – deserve an education system that works for them. Giving their family the responsibility and the resources to make that choice should be the state’s No. 1 priority.