SPRINGFIELD – With waiting lists for public school-affiliated charter schools and a Democrat majority in the state legislature that refuses to open the way for K-12 students to be allowed choice in education, Illinois parents continue to clamor for something better for their kids.
After all, they are allowed school choice before starting kindergarten and after graduating from high school. Why not the other 13 years?
The answer is that powerful teacher unions in Illinois just can't allow taxpayer-funded per student allowances to be used for competing with non-public schools. Why, if they allowed choice, the state could be facing the same challenges the Florida government school system is enduring: a mass exit to non-public alternatives.
This year, a "culture shift" is taking place in Florida, a report from "RedefinED" says, where over 100,000 children are using tax credit scholarships to attend the schools of their choice. The number has almost tripled in the past seven years.
Florida says 39% of those moving to non-public schools are Hispanic. Another 29% are black. And still another 26% are white.
That figure comes amid the highest-ever demand for scholarships. More than 177,000 students started the process of applying for scholarships. Step Up has approved more than 23,000 applications for students it does not have the money to serve.
Doug Tuthill, the president of Step Up, said rising demand is part of a larger “culture shift” in public education.
Educational choice in all its forms is becoming the norm. School districts are expanding magnet programs. Charter school enrollment continues to grow, despite fewer new schools being allowed to open. Home education is also on the rise.
“Hopefully the program will eventually be able to serve every student who applies and qualifies,” Tuthill said. “Right now, we’re not even close to meeting the demand. I feel bad for the thousands of families who are being turned away every year.”
Last Feb., I emailed about five state legislators, and I asked them to propose a voucher bill, giving parents vouchers that would allow them to send their kids to any Illinois school. I said that the competition might cause schools to compete and improve. I only got a response from State Rep. Bob Pritchard. He said that he wouldn’t propose the bill because the majority of the parents who want to use vouchers are poor people who live in Chicago. He said that they don’t have a way to take their kids to better schools, so few kids would benefit from a voucher law.