Vallas: Pritzker flips again on low-income scholarships – signals he’s open to killing program

Vallas: Pritzker flips again on low-income scholarships – signals he’s open to killing program

Last fall when he wanted to get reelected, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he supported extending a scholarship program available to low-income and working-class families – Invest in Kids.

“With assurance from the advocates for Invest in Kids that they will support increased public-school funding, my budgets have ultimately included the relatively small Invest in Kids Scholarship Program,” Pritzker responded on a Chicago Sun-Times candidate questionnaire.

But on July 11 after he was well into his second term, the governor reverted to the tone he’d originally taken on the campaign trail in 2018. He indicated he does not strongly support the program, which serves over 9,600 kids with thousands more on the waitlist.

Pritzker’s tone, a willingness to support either winding down or continuing the program, is somewhere in the middle between his 2022 campaign position and what he said of Invest in Kids in 2018: “I’m opposed to that $75 million tax credit, that school voucher system,” adding, “We should as soon as possible do away with it.”

Pritzker’s current tone signals all but a death knell for the program. It’s likely the state legislature, which is heavily financed by teachers union leaders who vehemently oppose Invest in Kids, will give Pritzker a phased-out program giving him cover to minimize the anger from the thousands of families who will be hurt if Invest in Kids gets killed.

Teachers’ unions are working overtime to end the program, which costs less than 1% of what the state alone will spend on public K-12 education. During the life of the tax credit which maxes out at $75 million annually in private donations, the state has increased annual public school funding by $2.9 billion, or nearly 40 times that amount. One would have thought after the stellar performance of Catholic and other private schools during and after the pandemic, not just in Chicago but statewide, the state legislature would support not only a permanent extension, but also an expansion of the program to satisfy the long waitlist of families hoping to secure a scholarship for their children.

Eleven states have introduced or passed school choice bills in 2023, and 32 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have laws that support school choice, according to EdWeek. Polls show strong support for school choice in Illinois, but the state’s political elite are moving to eliminate this very modest program. Illinois could become the first state to eliminate such a program.

Support for school choice is on the rise in Illinois, with 64% of Illinoisans supporting it, up from 62% in April. And 63% support the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, with bipartisan appeal.

Lawmakers were elected to enact the will of the people. Instead, it appears politicians are all too happy to do the will of special interests.

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