Illinois Has a Rare Opportunity to Transform Education
There is an ongoing battle in America to change the way children, particularly children from low-income families, a disproportionate number of whom are children of color, are able to access schooling. In this continuing saga, moments like the one that is now playing out in Illinois are extraordinarily rare. While the partisan brinkmanship now taking place in Springfield over the state's education funding bill is actually quite common, the opportunity to transform the lives of low-income students across the state is actually quite unique.
That’s because far too many of those in power across the country refuse to empower low-income and working-class parents and give them the tools necessary to chart a different course for their child’s education. The result: millions of low-income students languish in poor schools, while their parents do not have the power and the opportunity afforded to families with means.
That is why Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers, who have in the past been outspoken in their support for parent choice, must use this special legislative session, called to ensure Illinois schools open on time, to open the doors to parent choice for low-income and working-class families.
The debate thus far over the school funding bill has largely been centered on the traditional education system, one built for the 20th century – a system that is predicated on the premise that the more students and funding that stay in traditional public schools, the more power the teachers' union retains and the more sway the union has over politicians, unwilling to disrupt the status quo. That system calls for pouring endless amounts of money into traditional public schools as a strategy to fix education for all students. But that system is failing the most vulnerable students.
Thankfully, Rauner and others recognize that and are in a position to do something about it.
The governor ran on a 21st-century vision for education, one that seeks to maximize the opportunity to create an entirely different way to educate our kids through relentless dedication, smart leadership and efficient allocation of resources.
He is now in a position to forge a strong compromise that will make that happen.
This special session is such an important moment in Illinois. It provides an opportunity to chart a different course for how the state tackles the challenge of providing all students with access to high-quality education. And it begins with using this debate over education funding to enact a tax credit scholarship program that allows individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private, nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations that issue scholarships to low-income students.
By signing a bill with this language into law, the governor would propel Illinois to the forefront of the crucial battle to truly change education in America. Illinois could join the growing list of states that realize there is no one-size fits all system that works for our children, particularly our most vulnerable children.
To take advantage of this special moment in time a conversation is not enough; concrete action is needed. Given the stakes, the policymakers must right now do what’s best for kids.
Enacting the tax credit scholarship program is the embodiment of the type of tool that’s necessary to give our poorest children access to learning environments that could lead to improved academic outcomes.
What a powerful message Rauner and the legislature can send to their constituents in Illinois and to others around the country by passing this tax credit scholarship program. Now is the time ensure that all kids will have the chance to get a great education in Illinois.
Dr. Howard Fuller is a Distinguished Professor of Education at Marquette University.