Illinois lawmakers adjourn without saving school choice, but fight will continue
Illinois’ Invest in Kids school choice program for over 9,600 low-income students will end at the close of 2023. But supporters vow to resurrect it during the upcoming legislative session.
Invest in Kids might have helped over 9,600 low-income students choose a school that better fit their needs, but in the end those students failed to carry as much weight in the Illinois House as teachers unions, their money and their threats.
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch never called for a vote on a bill to extend Invest in Kids. That means Democratic lawmakers can let him carry the blame and tell their constituents they never had a chance to register their support or opposition.
Rules forged by scandal-plagued former House Speaker Mike Madigan allow Welch to bottle up bills and single-handedly deny lawmakers a chance to support or oppose them. House Bill 4194 was Democrats’ version of extending Invest in Kids, but limiting it. Another bill filed by Republicans, House Bill 4105, would have left the program intact and made it permanent. Both bills were sent to the legislature’s version of purgatory, the Rules Committee, which House speakers use to isolate and kill bills.
While Welch appeared to take the hit, also to blame was Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Pritzker initially vowed to kill Invest in Kids during his first campaign, then said he backed it during his second campaign, then said he was against it, then for it, then maybe. Had Pritzker supported private school for low-income children, just like he experienced and provided for his own children, then Statehouse Democrats would likely have backed it just as they did when it passed with bipartisan support in 2017.
As it was, Republicans in the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate unanimously and publicly declared their support for continuing Invest in Kids. They were on the side of the voters, who in June were 3-1 in favor of Invest in Kids, as they were in multiple polls – even by a pollster favored by Democrats.
School choice supporters were adamant they were not letting Invest in Kids die. The next legislative session begins in mid-January, and the work will continue.
“So we’re gonna continue to push for this,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, on Nov. 8 during during Illinois Policy’s press conference. “We’ll start again in January. And we’ll try to get this back on track because I think it’s a program that’s clearly helped thousands of children succeed and become all that they were meant to be.”
State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said, “We have wealthy folks, elites, you know, like the governor, the speaker, heads of the teachers unions and even public school teachers themselves. For whatever reason, they decided and they looked at it for their student that it was important for them to have an alternative to the public school that they were in. And that’s fine. That’s great that they decided to do that. They have the opportunity and the financial means to do that. But why wouldn’t we give that same opportunity to families with financial need?”
Teachers unions, and especially the Chicago Teachers Union, were the main opponents of Invest in Kids. They publicly claimed it took money from public schools, but that claim was hollow when the state added nearly $2 billion for public education after Invest in Kids began. An analysis showed government saved about $12,100 per scholarship student by being relieved of the need to educate a scholarship recipient while still receiving public monies for that student.
The union bosses’ real clout with the legislature came in the form of $1.5 million in campaign cash since June, when efforts to get the program saved during the fall veto session began. They also threatened Democrats preparing for 2024 reelection campaigns that they would suddenly find themselves with opponents in their party primary elections if they failed to oppose Invest in Kids.
While the public proclamation was about school funding, in reality the teachers unions were fighting competition. Private school students came out of the pandemic better and their academic achievements remain far ahead of public schools, especially in the schools ruled by the Chicago Teachers Union.
Chicago Public Schools are so lacking that CTU President Stacy Davis Gates refused to send her son to the local high school, instead sending him to a parochial high school where his academic and athletic needs are better met. She earns over $289,000 per year and can afford school choice.
Supporters pointed out the hypocrisy of Davis Gates and other teachers union bosses opposing school choice just because families don’t have a parent with a six-figure salary. They said it is a simple matter of fairness.