Heartland Institute Expert Reacts to Passage of Illinois Senate Bill 1947
On Monday, August 29, Illinois legislators passed Senate Bill 1947, which alters the state’s public school funding formula and includes several important education-related provisions. The bill includes a $100 million tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program (providing donors to the program with a credit worth up to 75 percent of their total state tax liability), $450 million in additional funding for the Chicago Public Schools system, and will allow the City of Chicago to increase property taxes by $130 million.
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“Illinois lawmakers will continue to fight over education funding until they learn to focus on students and not the school districts and teachers’ pension funds. The amended changes to Senate Bill 1947, especially the state’s new tax-credit scholarship program, are a baby step toward that end. While this education choice program will only represent less than 1 percent of total school funding in Illinois, it will bring hope to many students who have been trapped in schools that do not meet their education needs.”
“At the dawn of 2017, I never would have expected that one of the states to pass a new education choice program would be Illinois, the poster child for governance – both stupid and criminal. Yet here I am, pleasantly surprised to be wrong. This tax-credit scholarship program (repeat after me, journalists: ‘This is not a voucher program; this is not a voucher program; this is not a voucher program’) will allow qualifying families to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as at public schools located outside of the student’s traditional school district, using scholarships provided by donors, who, in return, will receive tax credits.
“A TCS differs from other school choice options in two significant ways: First, the money a TCS uses comes entirely from private sources. This allows a TCS program to avoid state and federal prohibitions against sending money to religious institutions. Second, these programs offer the cleanest school choice option, meaning the one with the least-burdensome government regulations, because they are not funded by tax collections. With 21 different programs in 17 states and more than 1.2 million scholarships granted, TCS programs are the most popular form of private school choice in the country. Further, EdChoice has found TCS programs have saved state and local governments between $1.7 billion and $3.4 billion through 2014. This comes out to between $1,750 and $3,000 saved per student. The savings in the 2013–14 school year alone, the most recent year available for study, were between $320 million and $580 million. For a state as cash-strapped and perpetually mismanaged as the Land of Lincoln, every little bit of savings helps.
“This is simultaneously a small and big step for Illinois. The program is not ideal as far as its funding, its size, and its lack of universality, but I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. There will be quite a few kids who will now be able to escape their failing neighborhood public schools and instead attend the schools that best suit their unique needs – places where they will feel safe, valued, will be excited to learn. For that, I am very thankful.”
“With the passing of Senate Bill 1947, a $100 million tax-credit scholarship program will be established in Illinois, which now joins 17 other states that have passed these successful programs. This is a big win for Illinois parents and their children, who will finally receive some much-needed educational relief from poor-performing public schools in their area. Taxpayers are also big winners, as tax-credit scholarships have saved in total between $1.7 billion and $3.4 billion for those states that take advantage of this policy idea.
“Once parents and children begin to experience and take advantage of their new educational choices, perhaps it won’t be too long until Illinois adopts an education savings account program, which would allow people to fulfill their natural desire to have as much freedom as possible to provide a high-quality education to their children.”
Government Relations Coordinator
The Heartland Institute
“School choice programs shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Research has repeatedly proven when parents are given the ability to choose the best education options for their children, learning outcomes improve and taxpayers’ money is spent more wisely, thereby improving the whole of society. Although Illinois still has a long road ahead to attain true education freedom for the state’s parents and students, its new tax-credit scholarship program is clearly a positive step in the right direction.
“The old era of massive, bureaucrat-focused education is, thankfully, coming to an end. Parents across the country are finally realizing the status quo can and should be replaced with pro-liberty policies such as Illinois tax-credit scholarship program. It’s great to see Illinois lawmakers are willing to join the education-freedom revolution.”