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Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

A controversial school voucher bill sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks has cleared another hurdle, today passing the House Executive Committee on a 10-1 vote. The proposed bill, which would launch the state’s first private school voucher program, now moves to the House floor, where even opponents concede its chance of passage is good.

Meeks turned his attention to vouchers last year. His legislation, SB 2494, would offer state reimbursement for private school tuition—up to $6,000 per child—to families that opt out of one of Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The bill would apply to some 22,000 students in the lowest 10 percent of schools in the district.

Meeks is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church, which operates Salem Christian Academy, a private school that would be eligible to accept students under the voucher proposal.

A controversial school voucher bill sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks has cleared another hurdle, today passing the House Executive Committee on a 10-1 vote. The proposed bill, which would launch the state’s first private school voucher program, now moves to the House floor, where even opponents concede its chance of passage is good.

Meeks turned his attention to vouchers last year. His legislation, SB 2494, would offer state reimbursement for private school tuition—up to $6,000 per child—to families that opt out of one of Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The bill would apply to some 22,000 students in the lowest 10 percent of schools in the district.

Meeks is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church, which operates Salem Christian Academy, a private school that would be eligible to accept students under the voucher proposal.

For Meeks and other supporters, the plan offers a cost-effective way to improve opportunities for families stuck in struggling schools. But several groups have lined up in opposition, including some that say it’s unconstitutional to pump state funding into religious schools and others that worry about access issues for students with special needs.

The American Civil Liberties Union could also file a legal challenge. Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the Illinois branch of the ACLU, stopped short of pledging such a challenge. But he said Illinois’ constitution, unlike the legal framework that surrounds some other voucher programs, has clear prohibitions on using state funding for religious schools.

A lobbyist for the Chicago Teachers Union, which could lose members if the bill passes, says vouchers would peel millions of dollars away from a cash-strapped school district and lead to school closings.

“Nobody wants to hear us on that,” says Traci Cobb-Evans with the CTU. “Some people are saying that Chicago will get smaller class sizes, but we know that Chicago will just close schools down for underutilization [as families leave with vouchers].”

CPS officials have remained neutral, so far.

Only state Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) voted against the proposed bill in committee. However, Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Springfield) said he would later oppose the bill unless lawmakers take additional steps to restrict funding for the 3-year pilot project to Chicago’s share of general state aid.

According to Sullivan, each student brings roughly $1,650 in general state aid to the city’s schools, plus another $2,700 in supplemental state poverty grants. He says city officials are trying to set up a separate line-item to pay for the voucher program, but he wants to ensure that Chicago’s state aid would be used instead.

“In essence, the voucher should not come from the state board,” he says. “It should be written by CPS.”

That way, he says, suburban districts are not paying for a Chicago program. Yet, he adds, Chicago “still wins” because it gets nearly $7,000 in additional per-pupil funding from property taxes and state and federal block grants—money that CPS would pocket if a student opts out of the city’s schools.

Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), who chairs the Executive Committee and strongly supports Meeks’ plan, says the “human expense” has to be the overriding consideration, as thousands of students are locked into schools that have under-performed for too many years. He says local school councils and other school improvement strategies just haven’t worked in some schools and he, like Sullivan, wants to try a new tack.

“This opens a whole new door that I don’t think anyone can close,” he says. “So, congratulations to Senator Meeks for doing this.”

Research on voucher programs, however, has found little benefit to struggling students. A Stanford University researcher who examined results from a federal study of the Washington D.C. voucher program found that students who were already higher-performing reaped the most benefit. Milwaukee’s voucher program has produced flat results.

10 comments

pinky1232 wrote 4 years 30 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Wouldn't the idea of Meeks christian church receiving money from this voucher program be a conflict of interest?

Neil Hernandez wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Notice there are two main groups against this voucher program. Teachers Unions and the ACLU. Both are left wing political groups. These groups strive for a political ideology. Anything that tries to impede that political ideology or their self serving interests gets attacked.

In the case of vouchers. Vouchers are a good thing for kids that goto low performing schools. A voucher would give those kids and alternative and another choice in schools.

Unfortunately, there are groups like the ACLU and the teachers union that cares more about their self-serving interest than for giving kids who goto low performing schools more options. I guarantee you the kids of ACLU members do not go to poor performing schools like Fenger.

Parent Choice Already Exists wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Parents have all the freedom they need to choose schools. If a parent doesn't like the schools in the neighborhood the solution is simple: move to another neighborhood.

Neil Hernandez wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Notice there are two main groups against this voucher program. Teachers Unions and the ACLU. Both are left wing political groups. These groups strive for a political ideology. Anything that tries to impede that political ideology or their self serving interests gets attacked.

In the case of vouchers. Vouchers are a good thing for kids that goto low performing schools. A voucher would give those kids and alternative and another choice in schools.

Unfortunately, there are groups like the ACLU and the teachers union that cares more about their self-serving interest than for giving kids who goto low performing schools more options. I guarantee you the kids of ACLU members do not go to poor performing schools like Fenger.

Neil the Troll: Please keep up with current events.. wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Looks like poor Neill needs to read Conservative Steve Chapman's commentary that explains that vouchers have failed in the very highlighted program in Milwaukee.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-oped-0415-chapman-20100...

Back at ya' 7:34 wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Steve Chapman isn't a "conservative," but a libertarian.

You must be one of those people who think the world is made up of either liberals or conservatives. Fortunately, you are wrong.

Hey Neil, Vouchers still failed!! That is the real point! wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Vouchers failed and that is the real point.

Bill wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

Can we do father vouchers? If you don't have a father, you qualify? Schools aren't failing because of bad teachers. Teachers today are more qualified and better trained than years ago. Certification is much more demanding and more teachers now have advanced degrees.

The problem is that struggling schools are filled with students without fathers. They have no one to read to them, no positive role model and never develop respect for authority. There are some kids who overcome the odds and do well without fathers, but the majority can't. I would think a Libertarian would be against the state providing funds for irresponsible behaviors, ie negligent parents.

Education Optimist wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Illinois is grasping at straws with voucher bill

http://eduoptimists.blogspot.com/2010/04/grasping-at-straws.html

Illinois is sure to be disappointed if it continues to move forward with a private voucher program (SB 2494) for Chicago Public Schools. Just ask Wisconsin-- and Milwaukee.

Clearly, the Chicago Tribune editorial board ('Liberate the kids'), which is cheering the process on, has not done its homework, not checked its sources, and not looked to its neighbor to the north for guidance. Or it is simply drinking the Kool Aid mixed by Voucher Inc.:

"And there's evidence that vouchers improve public schools. A 2009 report by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice examined 17 studies on the impact of voucher programs. Sixteen studies found that vouchers improved student achievement in public schools; one study found they had no positive or negative impact. In other words, competition works."

There is also plentiful evidence that vouchers do NOT improve public schools, including the on-going evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program -- the longest-standing voucher program in the country, just a short drive up I-94 from Chicago.

To look to the Friedman Foundation for guidance on this issue is akin to turning to Karl Rove's new book as a definitive history of the George W. Bush administration. From a University of Illinois professor, Dr. Christopher Lubienski, here's a critique of the Friedman report cited in the Tribune editorial:

"[T]he report, based on a review of 17 studies, selectively reads the evidence in some of those studies, the majority of which were produced by voucher advocacy organizations. Moreover, the report can’t decide whether or not to acknowledge the impact of factors other than vouchers on public schools. It attempts to show that public school gains were caused by the presence of vouchers alone, but then argues that the lack of overall gains for districts with vouchers should be ignored because too many other factors are at play. In truth, existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question."

Competition does not work. Plus, what evidence exists to suggest that these Chicago-area private schools will do any better a job of educating the students who would be taken out of the public system? I can't wait to see that evidence because I'm fairly certain that it doesn't exist. That raises questions about the Tribune's utter disregard of this issue: "What if student performance doesn't improve in private schools? Simple: Parents will vote with their feet." But if there's no comparable evidence of student performance between public and private schools, how can parents (consumers) make informed judgments about their child's education? In addition, what if there are insufficient openings at private schools for students wanting to go? Will the voucher be sufficient to cover the tuition and associated costs at these schools for low-income students?

What would be preferable to this exercise in grasping at straws would be energy directed toward a more difficult series of conversations about school-based policies like teacher quality, school leadership, teaching and learning conditions and overall school improvement, in addition to community-focused strategies such as early childhood education, after-school programs, quality child care, and school health in the city of Chicago that get to kids' readiness to learn when they come to school.

Vouchers are not the answer, but a major distraction from more efficacious approaches that should be the focus of the Illinois Legislature.

think what will be left with vouchers wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Voucher bill picks up steam, passes key House committee

the poorest of the poor children, the lowest scoring students and emotionally challanged will be left in the neighborhood school. (A lord of the flies.) They will know that they were not wanted. The only reason why a neighborhood school will have to stay open is to take in the students that the voucher schools kick out. This will prove true if this bill passes.

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