The Policy Shop: The Chicago Teachers Union’s hypocrisy

The Policy Shop: The Chicago Teachers Union’s hypocrisy

This edition of The Policy Shop comes to you from policy analyst Hannah Schmid.

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates believes in school choice – for herself.

Now that she’s admitted her child attends a private high school, she is attempting to spin the hypocrisy of trying to stop low-income families from making that same choice into an indictment of the Chicago Public Schools her union has done its best to hamstring. CTU has gotten limits on charter schools, bans on closing half-full schools and so far has been succeeding in choking out Illinois’ only school choice program, the Invest in Kids program that lets more than 9,600 low-income students go to a school that best fits their needs. Invest in Kids dies at the end of 2023, unless… (more on that below).

The demand is far greater than those 9,600 students. For every child receiving a scholarship, one estimate is another four are waiting for one. One of those waiting students is Joliet freshman George Kokuro.

“I’ve been wanting to go to law school since I was about 5 years old, because my dad always wanted me to be a lawyer. My sister went to college for law and my dad pushed her through it. My dad helped her all the way through college and she got her law degree,” George said.

“Sadly, my dad isn’t here anymore.”

“My mom, she works in a warehouse. I should be able to take care of her in the future. And I feel like, to be able to do that, I have to have the best education,” he said.

George wants to attend Joliet Catholic Academy, where he said he’d be able to get a better education.

The majority of Illinoisans support school choice, and Davis Gates’ decision to send her son to private school suggests she does, too… for herself. A summer poll found voters were 3 to 1 in favor of the Invest in Kids program.

And as far as her and the CTU’s claim that Invest in Kids takes from public education dollars, well, let’s just say that is an uneducated claim.

Since Invest in Kids first started in 2018 helping low-income students out of their failing public schools, public education has received nearly $2 billion more from the state. They’ve received that extra money to educate 147,000 fewer students. And despite a lighter workload and more money to do the job, student proficiency is dropping.

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.

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. For 11th grade students, proficiency has dropped by 6.5 percentage points in reading and 5.6 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. For low-income 11th graders, just 13% were proficient in reading and over 12% in math in spring 2022.

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.

A family choosing a private school pays twice: once to the private school and a second time through property taxes that support the public schools. One study a decade ago found private school tax credit scholarships save public schools up to $3,000-per-student by removing the need to educate a student for whom tax revenue was still being provided.

Invest in Kids goes away at the end of 2023, leaving nearly 10,000 kids at risk of returning to the underperforming public school environments they were lucky enough to escape. It will leave George without hope of attending Joliet Catholic. It will leave tens of thousands of students waiting, just like him, and trapped in public schools they would rather not attend.

“I want lawmakers to know that some people out here don’t have enough money to better themselves, so they depend on people like Empower Illinois,” which grants Invest in Kids scholarships, George said. “I feel like the scholarship should be kept so people can do better for themselves, do better in the future and hopefully succeed in life.”

Davis Gates made her choice to pick a private high school rather than letting her child struggle in Chicago Public Schools. Illinoisans who believe George and thousands of low-income families should have the same choice should contact their state lawmakers and ask where they stand on saving Invest in Kids.

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