A plan being floated to steer taxpayer money toward a voucher-like program for families that send their children to private schools is a dangerous step backward toward segregation, Unit 5’s superintendent said Tuesday.
Lawmakers have begun privately discussing a $100 million program that offers scholarships to kids so they can go to private or parochial school. A draft proposal reviewed by WBEZ in Chicago indicates most Illinois families would be eligible for the program, which could have big effects on public school enrollment.
Teacher unions oppose the proposal, as does Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel.
“To me, that’s a voucher system,” he said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “I’ll never agree with that.”
Vouchers could lead to a system of “haves and haves nots,” Daniel said, where parents’ choices about where to send their students could hurt the public school system overall.
“It’s the beginning of segregation,” he said. “We saw that all the way through the 1960s.”
Funding for Unit 5 and districts around the state is being held up by this latest impasse in Springfield. Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto on a bill that would rewrite how Illinois funds public schools, introducing an “evidence-based” funding model to improve fairness in state aid to public schools. It would ensure no school gets less than it got this year and then funnels money first to districts with more poverty and other needs.
The scholarship proposal is being floated as part of those negotiations, though Daniel says that doesn’t make sense.
“I think that was the exact opposite of what we were trying to do with evidence-based model. It was about equity. It was about equality. That is very important," he said.
Unit 5 and other districts are still trying to learn how the competing school funding bills would affect their bottom line. The original Senate Bill 1 (SB1) would have provided Unit 5 with an extra $416,000 each year, but that estimate has fallen to around $200,000 in light of Rauner’s amendatory veto.
The district’s overall budget is around $147 million.
“This is what happens when you wait to the last minute and you try to create a bargain in a short amount of time … under extreme pressure and chaos,” Daniel said.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Daniel:
The Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio contributed to this report.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.