ALMOST FAILING: Students First gives Illinois a D-plus for school
Illinois' school choice report card from education advocate Students
First is a step above failing — not only because the state offers
limited school choices (few charter schools or private schools), but
also because public schools many times fail to give parents the
information needed to make a choice.
"Parents lack accessible information regarding school and classroom
performance to make better decisions," the Students First report
states. "The state (also) lacks strong fiscal transparency that
allows the public to link spending data to student academic outcomes."
State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said in Illinois parents have
three choices: public schools, a limited number of charter schools
and private schools paid for out of parents' pockets.
"When you think about the states that have active school choice,
they're a little more conservative. And Illinois is a little more
liberal," Ford told Illinois Watchdog. "And I don't understand how a
liberal state would be against being liberal when it comes to educating our
children and meeting their needs."
Ford is one of the few Chicago Democrats to fight for school choice.
He's been pushing for scholarships, paid for by the state lottery,
that would give low income students in Chicago a choice other than
local public schools.
"The pushback comes from legislators in the city (of Chicago)," Ford
said, "where people believe that the only way we should use state
dollars is to promote public schools."
Adam Rogalski, director of advocacy and policy leadership for the
Illinois' Network of Charter Schools', said Illinois' powerful
teachers unions are also part of that pushback.
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"The Illinois teacher unions are powerful and oppose many school
choice options. However, they are not the sole reason for
limitations on school choice options across the state," Rogalski
explained. "There are some unionized charter public schools in
Chicago. There are a range of political and economic factors that
come into play. But the fact remains clear, more Illinois families
are demanding school choice options."
Illinois has capped charter school growth. A 1996 law limited the
state to just 75 charter schools in Chicago, and 45 throughout the
rest of the state. There are about 60 such schools currently
operating in Illinois.
Ford said that will change, eventually. He expects another push for
more school choice, but not full school choice, when lawmakers
return to the state capitol this spring.
"I think school choice will be a debate (this spring)," Ford said.
"It only makes sense that this never goes away. ... Before we expand to a full
voucher system, it makes no sense not to visit the pilot (program) of lottery
Contact Benjamin Yount at
Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him
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