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Are we closer to vouchers in Illinois?

“In America, every child should have a dream and every dream should have a chance.” Rev. James Meeks and Andy McKenna, Jr.

Yesterday, the House Executive Committee voted 10-1 to advance a bill that allows students from the bottom 10% of Chicago elementary schools have the opportunity for a voucher to be applied to a private school.  The bill has already cleared the Illinois Senate.  My only question is why does this bill only apply to Chicago schools– should not the bill apply to the bottom 10% of  all schools in the state?  Otherwise, it looks like a good start.  The Rev. James Meeks and Andy McKenna wrote about that bill and this opportunity for children in Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune. Their words are as follows:

A WORTHY EDUCATION

Because of irresponsible leadership, Illinois is running out of money. Still, the educational mission of state government is critical to our future. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, education is the “civil rights issue of our generation.” These two realities confront us with a simple demand: We must spend money much more effectively.

Each day, this imperative becomes clear to more and more people. It is the reason Democrats and Republicans are joining together to support Senate Bill 2494, the Illinois School Choice Act. They believe it is one way to spend our money more effectively.

The bill offers vouchers to families with children enrolled in Chicago’s worst performing elementary schools, defined as the bottom 10 percent, so they can take their children out of these schools and send them to a nearby private school. The amount of each voucher is the lesser of the state’s “foundation level” funding (currently, $6,119) or yearly tuition at the private school. (The average private elementary school tuition in Chicago is less than $4,500).

This approach saves money. According to the Illinois Policy Institute’s analysis, the state would save $19 million over five years, if about half the students eligible for vouchers request them, and more than $182 million over 12 years. These resources could be reinvested in public education or used to address many of the state’s other financial woes.

More important, this bill serves students better. Voucher programs created for inner-city children have succeeded in other states. All of the “gold-standard” studies of vouchers have found academic benefits: six showed significant gains in reading and math; four found these gains concentrated among key subgroups — African-American and low-income students.

Florida implemented a program that parallels Senate Bill 2494 and found that every failing school impacted by the program showed marked academic improvement. As is so often true, competition makes things better.

This bill passed the Illinois Senate with strong bipartisan support. Now it’s time for the Illinois House to act. The bill is scheduled for a House committee hearing on Thursday.

In America, every child should have a dream and every dream should have a chance. Failing schools shut down the dreams of children and their families. This is unacceptable. We must do better.

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