Money Doesn’t Talk, It Swears
“[T]hey dare to push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears obscenity.”
Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
The “Invest in Kids” act was officially declared dead at 1:43 on Thursday afternoon, when the House adjourned without taking up the governor’s veto of an extension of the program. As a result, over 9,000 kids who benefited from this program will get shoved back into underperforming schools and over 20,000 kids who were hoping to be considered for the program have had their hopes dashed.
Originally passed in 2018 as part of the package that led to additional state funding for education (which I supported) using an “Evidence Based” model that has kicked in an additional $300 million per year of state money into our public schools, the intent of the program was to get kids, mostly minorities, out of underperforming public schools and into private schools of their parents’ choosing. It provided for funding of up to $75 million per year, paid for private donations for which an income tax credit was available.
Since 2018, the state has increased funding for K-12 education by some $2 billion, and spending per student has increased over 30% since 2019. In fiscal year 2023, K-12 education received over $10.26 billion in funding, which is 38.5% of the state’s operational budget. Even if the program had fulfilled its full funding authority of $75 million (which it never did), the loss to the education budget would have been a little over $20 million. For the mathematically challenged, that would be somewhat less than two-tenths of one percent of the entire education budget, nothing more than a rounding error.
Here’s how much spending per student increased during the past 4 years:
And what have we gotten for that additional $2 billion in funding? The October 30 release of the Illinois State Board of Election’s “Report Card” shows that there has been some improvement in academic performance since 2019 (the year before the COVID pandemic, and not a particularly banner year as far as academic performance goes). Here are some “fun facts” from the Report Card (comparisons are 2019 to 2023):
- Statewide enrollment has declined by 126,729
- Chronic absenteeism has risen from 17.5% in 2019 to 29.8% in 2023
Performance Levels Declined as Follows:
- English Language Arts scores
From the opening bell, the long knives were out against this program even though it enjoyed broad support from the very constituencies it was meant to benefit. While at no time did the program reach its $75 million authorization level, the caterwauling by the usual suspects would make you believe that we were bankrupting the public school system.
When I say “usual suspects” I mean of course our good friends in the teachers’ unions. Since January of 2022 the Illinois Federation of Teachers has provided over $5.1 million in campaign contributions, the overwhelming majority of which went to Democrats. Let’s not forget that it’s these same teachers’ unions that kept our schools closed long after it became clear that school attendance had little to no effect on COVID transmission.
There are a lot of Democratic legislators who supported an extension of the program, especially in districts with a preponderance of minority students. But the Speaker didn’t let the extension come to a vote because he couldn’t get the 71 votes needed for an override from his own caucus, even when he didn’t need that many to achieve an override because there were certainly 40 members on our side of the aisle who would vote for it. Instead, he took one for the team so as to not antagonize that ever so fertile source of campaign cash. I guess that goes with the job, but it certainly isn’t a profile in political courage.
There’s always hope that another bill can be passed in the spring session which would apply retroactively and keep the program going. But until that day comes, I think it’s only fair that those legislators who saw fit to torpedo this program would have the decency to contact the families living in their districts whose kids benefitted from the program and who they sold out for filthy lucre to tell them how sorry they are.