This comment by a reader explains that ALEC managed to slip a voucher into a needed school funding bill in Illinois, but it does not explain why elected officials in Illinois did not understand what was happening and block it. A “tax credit” is a voucher by another name. It was designed for states with constitutions that prohibit vouchers, with language that unequivocally says that public money may not be spent in religious schools for any purpose.

The tax credit allows corporations and wealthy individuals to give large sums to an independent entity (which takes a cut). The independent entity uses the money to give scholarships to students to go to religious schools. The corporation and individual get a tax credit, and the state loses money that would otherwise be in the state treasury.

The anonymous reader writes:

So: In terms of funding its schools, Illinois ranked #50, providing only around 26% of school funding. This had resulted over time in astonishing inequity, with districts spending between $7000 (poor, downstate, rural) and $32,000 per student (Chicago North Suburbs).

The new formula, which is referred to as the “EBM”, evidence-based-model, considers each of IL’s 852 school districts as a separate entity, calculates what the district can provide for schools (based on property taxes and federal aid), what is needed (using a state-wide baseline of about $12,200 iirc and incorporating all special characteristics of each district), and then separates schools into four Tiers, 1-4. The lion’s share of state funding will go to Tier 4 school districts, followed by Tier 3 (there are mathematical formulas involving percentages here), Tier 2, and Tier 1 (no state aid, deemed more than adequate). Determination of funding levels is based on 27 separate criteria (derived from, but not identical to Odden & Pincus’s model) and sensitive to the fact that different schools/districts may have different student profiles and thus, funding needs.

If all goes as planned: no district will ever lose money from the previous year (this is the famous “hold harmless” clause); all districts will gradually converge towards equity in public education resources; individual districts may, if deemed at 110% adequacy, choose to reduce property taxes, and each district’s state funding will be determined by its actual, evidence-based needs.

The bill’s chief sponsor in the Illinois Senate is to my mind a hero – very few people apart from the authors and the state’s superintendents of schools have understood how ground-breaking this bill is. For many districts–including the one where I was raised (poor, urban, downstate)–this will entail a near-reversal of funding percentages from what obtained previously.

The whole voucher thing–never wanted, never intended, not in the original version of the bill–has to do with unfortunate events in state politics over the summer. The original version of the voucher amendment – it was an ALEC bill, tweaked for Illinois – was weakened in the final version: yearly limit of $75 million (instead of $100 m) (and thus theoretically available to around 10,000 out of Illinois’ 2,000,000 school-age children, or one-half of 1%); 75% credit (instead of 100%); no year-over-year increases (instead of an automatic increase of 25% per year); tight regulations/audits by an independent outside auditor (plus spending cap of 10% for non-education activities such as advertising), and a sunset provision for automatic repeal at the end of 5 years unless it’s reintroduced as separate legislation.

It’s the job of public education advocates in Illinois to make sure that it isn’t re-introduced as a standalone bill – Illinois has no provision for referendums for Article X of its constitution (“Education”), so let’s hope the (national) public education advocacy groups assist Illinois’s own group (RaiseYourHandforIllinois)–and let’s hope that advocacy group gets on top of this, and stays on top of it, for the next five years so that it’s DOA in 2024. This is a big challenge, because we can lose sight of longer-term threats in the heat of day-to-day crises, of which Illinois has more than its share.

During the months I followed the issue in both the political and education press/blogs, I discovered that (a) even top political writers in the state didn’t understand vouchers, and absolutely refused to understand how “tax credits” were a specially-crafted form of voucher for states with some version of the Blaine Amendment, and (b) it was nigh-on impossible to attract the interest of national-level education writers to what was about to happen–thus, most of the national-level coverage came after the fact, when it was too late to do anything.

That’s why sites like this one are so vital – they allow us to remain current with what’s happening in states other than our own, so that we can be alert when something similar is afoot at home.