Illinois mandated annual reports on Invest in Kids: 4 years, no reports

Illinois mandated annual reports on Invest in Kids: 4 years, no reports

The Illinois State Board of Education failed to publish diagnostic reports required by the Invest in Kids Act to track scholarship recipients’ progress starting in 2019. State lawmakers are letting the program expire without seeing a single report.

The Illinois State Board of Education routinely failed to publish annual reports mandated by the Invest in Kids Act tracking scholarship recipients’ educational gains against public school students’ since 2019.

Those reports were intended to tell state lawmakers whether the experiment was working. The program is ending without that information.

When asked why the reports had not been published to the Illinois State Board of Education website, a spokesperson for the department provided this response: first year, not required; second year, pandemic; third year, low participation; fourth and fifth years, being compiled.

Lawmakers adjourned Nov. 9 and won’t return to Springfield until mid-January, allowing the program to expire at the end of this year. State lawmakers took no action and Gov. J.B. Pritzker invested no political capital in saving the program that gave a choice of schools to over 9,600 low-income students.

Section 45 of the Invest in Kids Act required ISBE to publish annual reports on their website tracking program participants’ educational improvements starting in the 2019-2020 academic year. There are no reports.

These diagnostic reports were supposed to include, to the extent possible, annual comparisons of how Invest in Kids scholarship recipients’ standardized test scores measured against Illinois public school students of similar socioeconomic means.

ISBE’s executive director of communications, Jaclyn Matthews, responded to an open records request by writing that the independent research organization hired to compile the annual reports, West Ed, required two years of assessment data to make a comparison. The law did not require a report for the first year. The pandemic prevented standardized testing in spring 2020. She wrote that in spring 2021, test participation was so low it was not considered representative of the student population.

Matthews wrote West Ed is currently producing the Invest in Kids report covering 2022 and 2023 test data. No date was set for the arrival.

Senate minority leader John Curran said the lack of reporting on scholarship recipients’ progress left lawmakers uninformed during the veto session and susceptible to pressure from special interests.

“Unfortunately for the thousands of Invest in Kids families, it appears that Gov. Pritzker’s administration either failed to complete, or failed to share these assessments four years in a row, which has emboldened opponents to point to the lack of data the administration refused to collect,” Curran, a Republican from Downers Grove said in a statement.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association, two of the program’s staunchest opponents, issued a joint statement telling lawmakers, “there is no evidence that these policies are beneficial for students.”

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 child while still receiving public monies for that student.

The union bosses’ real clout with the legislature came in the form of nearly $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.

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.

Despite the success of teachers unions in making Illinois the first state in the nation to roll back a school choice scholarship program, polling shows ordinary Illinoisans overwhelming support the program for low-income students.

A poll conducted by Echelon Insights for the Illinois Policy Institute shows Illinois voters supported Invest in Kids 3 to 1, with a supermajority of Democrats, Republicans and independents backing the scholarship program.

Lawmakers will have one more chance to revive Invest in Kids scholarships in the upcoming spring session of the General Assembly starting in January 2024. If they succeed, there will be a gap in the program – but not nearly as large a gap as there’s been in reporting on the program.

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