Illinois public schools funding up almost $2B since school choice program began

Illinois public schools funding up almost $2B since school choice program began

Public education has received about $1.98 billion in additional funding since the 2018-19 school year when the Invest in Kids scholarship tax-credit program awarded its first scholarships to low-income students to attend the schools of their choice.

Funding to Illinois public schools has continued to increase by nearly $1.98 billion since the inception of school choice scholarships for low-income children, contrary to opponents’ claims it siphons money from public schools.

That funding boost is even with a nearly 7.5% decrease in enrollment statewide since the 2018-2019 school year, the first year in which the Invest in Kids program began awarding private school scholarships in Illinois.

The Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax-Credit Program was a bipartisan program when it passed in 2017. Since then teachers unions have fought it with claims that it hurts public school funding – a hollow argument when the state delivered nearly $1.98 billion in additional funding for fewer public schools students during Invest in Kids lifespan.

Meanwhile, more than 147,000 fewer students attend Illinois public schools since the 2018-19 school year.

Nearly 41,000 scholarships have been awarded in Illinois since the program’s inception, meaning the scholarship program isn’t the reason for the downturn in public school enrollment. Those 41,000 scholarships would only account for about 28% of the more than 147,000 fewer students, and that’s assuming each of those 41,000 scholarships were awarded to a different student in the program.

But many students receive the scholarship for multiple years in a row, meaning the actual number of students served by the tax-credit scholarships is much fewer than 41,000 and an even smaller percentage of the number of students no longer in Illinois’ public school system.

Scholarships to low-income students are funded by individuals who are incentivized to donate by tax credits awarded by the government. But none of that money is diverted from Illinois’ education budget.

In fact, research a decade ago showed for every student attending a private school on a tax credit scholarship, a state saved between $1,650 and $3,000 by not having to educate that student in the public system.

All of this means Illinois is educating fewer students at a higher total cost to taxpayers, yet delivering poorer outcomes.

Proficiency declining in Illinois

Despite a nearly $1.98 billion increase to an Illinois public education system educating over 147,000 fewer students, student proficiency in core subjects has steadily declined.

Between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, the statewide percentage of third- through eighth-grade students proficient in core subjects has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in reading and six percentage points in math. Among low-income students in third through eighth grade, just 16% were proficient in reading in 2022 and 11% in math. That’s a drop of nearly seven percentage points in reading and six percentage points in math.

For 11th grade students, proficiency has dropped by 6.5 percentage points in reading and 5.6 percentage points in math. For low-income students in 11th grade, just 13% were proficient in reading and over 12% in math in spring 2022, a drop of over five percentage points in reading since 2019 and 4.5 percentage points in math.

Parents lucky enough to obtain an Invest in Kids scholarship are seeking a better educational fit for their child. They are not hurting public education funding, and in fact continue funding it through their taxes.

It’s only fair that low-income families have the same chance to seek better for their children. If you agree, contact your state lawmaker and ask whether they support saving Invest in Kids.

Click here to find and contact your state lawmakers.

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