George Kokuro is a public high school freshman who dreams of becoming a lawyer. It’s a dream his father instilled in him.
“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.”
His father’s death changed George’s trajectory, but not his dream.
“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 wants to attend Joliet Catholic Academy, where he’d be able to get that better education. But when your mom works in a warehouse, your shot at a private school education is a lot more limited than when your mom is president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
CTU President Stacy Davis Gates doesn’t want George to have the same opportunity as her child. She wants to kill his single shot, Illinois’ Invest in Kids program, which awards low-income families private school scholarships funded by donors. It encourages those donations by offering state income tax credits. She claims those credits take away from public school funding.
Davis Gates says inadequate funding is the reason she won’t send her eldest child to the neighborhood school where her union’s members teach. Her neighborhood school, Harlan Community Academy High School, lacks the courses, the activities and the clubs Davis Gates found for her child at a private school. Her child’s academic future at Harlan would have been bleak: none of Harlan’s 11th graders showed proficiency in math on the SAT. Only 2.7% were proficient in reading.
That’s despite spending $22,531 annually on each of its 293 students. Compare that to the cost of the private high school her child attends: $18,000. All the sports and student newspaper and course offerings Davis Gates dreams of for her child but provided for $4,500 less by a school unrestricted by CTU demands, such as keeping half-full schools open.
There’s just so much wrong with this scenario.
First, the hypocrisy of a choice for Davis Gates, but not for a kid who lost his dad.
Second, Davis Gates is fighting Invest in Kids with claims it takes from public school funding. Wrong. Since the scholarship program started in 2018, Illinois has invested nearly $2 billion more in public education at a time it lost over 147,000 students.
With more money to educate fewer students, you’d expect better academic outcomes. Wrong again. Among low-income students in third through eighth grade, just 16% were proficient in reading in 2022 and 11% in math. That’s a drop of nearly seven percentage points in reading and six percentage points in math since Invest in Kids started.
For low-income students in 11th grade, just 13% were proficient in reading and over 12% in math in spring 2022, a drop of over five percentage points in reading since 2019 and 4.5 percentage points in math.
Besides, parents of private school students still pay taxes towards public education. 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.
The CTU has invested over $17 million in politics since Davis Gates’ radical caucus took over a decade ago. They expect something for that investment, and in the spring state lawmakers delivered by failing to fund the Invest in Kids scholarship tax credits. The program is dead at the end of 2023.
State lawmakers can still save the program when they meet in veto session starting Oct. 24. They just need to remove the end date – change a single line of state law – and the program will live on to give George a shot at a private school scholarship.
“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,” George said.
Davis Gates made an honorable decision for her child and is sacrificing her family’s income to back that choice. It’s a choice 39% of Chicago Public Schools teachers have made for their children. It’s a choice 11 of her child’s peers have been able to make, thanks to Invest in Kids scholarships.
Isn’t it a choice nearly 10,000 low-income children still deserve? Isn’t it only fair that every Illinois family be able to choose the best schools for their children?
Brad Weisenstein is managing editor of the Illinois Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank working to expand Illinoisans’ freedoms and ability to choose their own schools.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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