Nearly every week, I receive a call from an Illinois parent asking about whether the state has a school voucher program.
Last week it was a single mother from the South Side of Chicago. Her daughter just graduated from elementary school and will attend one of the city’s worst high schools if her family can’t find the means to pay for private school.
When I told her Illinois doesn’t have voucher program, she let out a resigned sigh.
That’s the same reaction most parents have. They tell me about their son or daughter – how he or she is a good kid and student – and how the family would send him or her to a better school if they just had the money.
Illinois legislators will soon have the opportunity to begin the conversation about changing the state’s funding system to improve the Illinois’ education landscape.
Early in the next legislative session, an advisory committee on education funding will meet to discuss and suggest changes to Illinois’ convoluted and complex education funding system.
This is the perfect opportunity for legislators to propose a new way of funding education – one that empowers parents by giving them the resources to send their child to a school of their choice.
This may be hard for some legislators to embrace, especially given each party’s discontent with the current education funding system.
Republicans have argued for years that Chicago benefits disproportionately from the state’s education funding formulas. Senate Republicans released a report in March that highlighted this fact.
Democrats, on the other hand, have long held that Illinois does not provide enough financial help to struggling cities and towns, many of which lack the ability to raise sufficient local tax revenue to pay for schools.
Despite the qualms both sides have with the current system, legislators do not have time to simply tinker with the current education funding formulas.
Illinois’ schools are failing. Fewer than half of students in the state’s public schools are college-ready in reading, math and science, and 82 percent of Illinois districts failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress last year.
Legislators need to propose bold solutions – policies that will give parents the financial resources and responsibility to choose the right school for their child, whether it be public, charter or private.
Implementing such a system also improves accountability – most parents will not let their children linger in a substandard learning environment.
Legislators need to remember that small tweaks to the current formulas will do nothing to create a better education environment for Illinois children to learn in.