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Thorner: Illinois Lags Nation in K-12 Educational Reform Choices




By Nancy Thorner - 

Speaking at a Heartland Institute event on Wednesday, June 8th, Jason Bedrick  of the Cato Institute explained how your tax dollars can be better used to educate your children and grandchildren.  These vital questions were explored: How does education freedom work?  How can education be funded?   

A policy analyst with the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, Jason Bedrick previously served as a legislator in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and was an education policy research fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.  Bedrick has published numerous studies on educational choice programs with organizations such as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Jason Bedrick was introduced by Lennie Jarratt, Project Manager, Education Transformation at the Heartland Institute. Mr. Bedrick compared this nation's education system to a rotary phone with its one function. For 100 years the education process has been locked in a status quo operation in which children are placed in classes based on the year they were born, with an assumption that all children born in the same year will learn and advance in the same way. 

But what has been the outcome? This nation ranks 30th in education world-wide.  Even though all countries in the top quadrant spend less, they are obtaining higher performance at a lower cost. Troubling is the tripling of per student spending since 1970, due in large part to the hiring of personnel to fill many non-teaching positions. 

U.S. public schooling can be summed up as follows:

  • Flat mediocre performance
  • Increasingly expensive
  • Less efficient
  • Falling behind internationally
  • Low-income students generally lack access to a quality education
  • Parents in general aren't getting what they want

Taking Education From a Rotary Phone to an I-Phone 

Just as Steve Jobs as a technology entrepreneur and inventor fostered experimentation through creating a platform for innovation, education also benefits through innovation with the development of different educational options.

Most parents care very deeply about the education their children receive.   In a system of choice where parents have public school exit options available for their children, public schools work harder to produce better results.

Mr. Bedrick discussed three school choice options – Vouchers, Tax-Credit Scholarship, and Educational Savings Accounts - as methods to move education from the one-purpose rotary phone to the possibilities inherent in an I-phone.  Just as Steve Jobs presented a platform for other people to experiment, parents receive more of what they want through innovation.


In the article "Public Schools:  Make them Private", published in 1995 by the Cato Institute by 1976 Nobel Prize for Economics winner Milton Friedman, Friedman opines about the state of this nation's education system and how our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured.  His solution was by privatizing a major segment of the educational system such as enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop and provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools. Friedman considered the voucher system essential to much needed education restructuring.

A voucher allows parents to use public funds to pay for some or all of their child's private school tuition.  In most cases vouchers are created and distributed by state governments.  The first voucher program was created in Milwaukee, WI, in 1991 to give low income families more high-quality school options. In 2010, the Illinois General Assembly came close to approving a school voucher program for the Chicago Public School; the bill passed the Senate but not the House.  Shouldn't parents in poor, overcrowded and failing schools, as in Chicago, be able to have the freedom to find a better school so their children can have better futures? 

The question of whether school vouchers would withstand constitutional scrutiny here in Illinois because of the “Blaine Amendment” — originally aimed at Catholics and which forbids state funding of religious institutions — has yet to be decided in the courts.  Representative James G. Blaine, at the suggestion of President Ulysses S. Grant, fashioned what became law in 1874.  The Blaine Amendment states: "No money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any funds shall ever be under the control of any religious sect."  Illinois has its own Blaine amendment. 


Tax Credit Scholarship Programs are an alternative to vouchers. These tax credits allow individuals and corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations that issue scholarships to K-12 students. The scholarship is used to pay tuition, fees, and other related expenses.  As a result, the state does not have to appropriate per-pupil education funding for those students that receive scholarships. More than 200,000 students benefit from education tax credits in 16 states.  Illinois is not one of them.

Illinois does have an Illinois Tuition Tax Credit law that allows parents to claim a tax credit on tuition, books, and lab frees at public, private and parochial schools. Taxpayer can annually claim a 25% credit on qualified educational expenses they incur over and above $250, up to a maximum of $500 per family.   See here the Education Expense Credit General Rules and Requirements for Home schooled children.


Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) are account similar to a checking account.  They don't exist in Illinois.  Arizona has the longest running program, where 90% of the state funding that would have been received by the school the child previously attended is put into an Empowerment Scholarship Account. Arizona keeps the remaining 10%.  The entire amount can be spent in one year and in one place, spent in multiple, and even saved for use later on.  


  • Although Illinois is far behind in education school choice options (Charter schools were not mentioned by Jason Bedrick.), Illinois is the best for homeschooling in the nation, at least for now.  Not only are there no regulations, but home schools are considered private schools.  Upon graduation from high school it is perfectly fine for a parent to make up their child's own diploma, listing on the diploma the courses taken by their child to graduate.  
  • There is no such thing as a public school in Illinois. Illinois has a district school system which spends peoples’ money.
  • Money doesn't insure good education:  D.C. spends $30,000 per pupil, double the national average, and has the worst outcome with low performing schools. If money were the criteria, D.C. schools should have by far the best schools in the nation.

The live stream of "Funding Education Choice: Jason Bedrick", can be viewed here.


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  1. Administrative cost have gone up in by about 700 percent in the last years. Administrative cost in micro schools needs to be reduced. So more money can be spent on education for our children.