1/13/2010 Download the full report here (pdf). Download the one-page Policy Point summary here (pdf). The Problem Despite the $25 billion flowing into our public school system annually, a full 81 percent of people polled in Illinois would send their child to a school other than a traditional public school in order to receive the best possible education. Parents want to be able to send their children to charter schools, virtual schools and private schools—not just traditional public schools. Our current system does not provide nearly enough of those choices.
Only 32 percent of Illinois public elementary school students are reading at grade level. That number slips to 30 percent by the end of middle school. By the time they reach the 12th grade, only 20 percent of public school students possess the requisite skills to succeed in college. At least 25 percent of students in Illinois’s public high schools drop out of school altogether.
Our Solution It’s time to try something different. “Ahead of the Curve: An Introduction to Public School Reform in Illinois” outlines three policy alternatives to Illinois’s current system of public education: charter schools, weighted student funding, and tuition tax credits.
There are more than 13,000 children on waiting lists for the state’s relatively small number of charter schools, which are only permitted to serve students from 10 of the state’s 870 school districts. Specifically, “Ahead of the Curve” lays out why lawmakers must create new routes to charter school authorization that will enable more charter schools to open in more districts.
“Ahead of the Curve” also asks lawmakers to allow the successes in Illinois’s charter schools to spread to all public schools by implementing a system of “weighted student funding”—a system where funds follow students directly to the public schools of their parents’ choice, which can be achieved if state and local policymakers create policies that establish school-based budgeting and decision-making. This would foster competition between public schools by rewarding enrollment policies based on choice and not home address.
Only 11 percent of Illinois schoolchildren attend private schools, even though 39 percent of people polled believe that a private school would provide their child with the best possible education. A program can be created that would make private school tuition affordable to working class families and yet save taxpayer money in the process. In that light, “Ahead of the Curve” recommends expanding Illinois’s current $500 education expense tax credit into a refundable tax credit of $4,000 per child (or otherwise creating a program that allows working class families to access private schools, should they see fit).
Why This Works These reforms give parents the choice of schools they desire. They would give taxpayers a better understanding of where their money is going. Most importantly, they would give children the education they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world economy.