A school voucher program for children in low-performing public schools in Illinois has been introduced in the General Assembly. To qualify for the program, students must be attending a public school ranked, according to state assessments, in the lowest-performing 10 percent of schools in its school district.
Under the proposed program, school vouchers would use the per-pupil average funds that are normally allocated to school districts and instead distribute these funds to participating families to pay tuition and fees at private and parochial schools.
This proposed voucher program would cover either the lesser of the full cost of tuition and fees at a private school or the amount of the state’s foundation level for general state aid funding ($6,119 in fiscal year 2015–16) for students with household incomes below three times the federal poverty level. For students with household incomes up to four times the federal poverty level, the voucher would amount to 50 percent of Illinois’ foundation level. Students whose family’s household income exceeds four times the federal poverty level would receive a “flat grant” based on general state aid level for the school district, which is determined by the available local resources per pupil for the district as well as the district’s average daily attendance figures.
Only 37 percent of Illinois 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Only 35 percent of 4th graders and 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Illinois’ public school system is failing to educate roughly six out of 10 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics.
Illinois’ troubling performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in Illinois are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives, and parents are starting to take notice. Sixty percent of parents in a 2015 Illinois Network of Charter Schools poll responded the state’s public schools are on the wrong track, and 77 percent said parents should be afforded more choices in where they can send their children to school. These parents are correct. They should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.
In May 2016, EdChoice released a report examining 100 empirical studies on school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires – and does so at a lower cost – while simultaneously benefitting public school students.
Creating this voucher program would give more Illinois families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the opportunity to attend a quality school.
The following documents provide more information about school vouchers and school choice.
A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.
2016/17 School Choice Report Card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation.
Research & Commentary: Indiana School Choice Parental Satisfaction Should Lead to More School Choice
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson examines an expanded, follow-up study to a 2014 report by EdChoice that examines why Indiana parents choose to take advantage of the state’s Choice Scholarship Program voucher and use it to send their children to private schools.
Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.
The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.
How School Choice Programs Can Save Money
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.
How School Choice Can Create Jobs
Examining five South Carolina counties, Sven R. Larson found school choice programs were associated with gains of up to 25 percent in youth self-employment. Larson writes, “School Choice raises academic achievement and reduces the problems and costs associated with high school dropouts. But it also has a decisively positive impact on youth entrepreneurship and could provide a critical boost for the economies of poor, rural counties.”
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Nathan Makla, Heartland’s state government relations manager, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.