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A prominent education reform advocate has an idea to solve the state’s school funding fight.
Jeanne Allen is the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform. She wants Illinois to adopt a tax-credit scholarship program as a part of any deal.
"A tax credit scholarship program is, essentially, a way for both companies and individuals to support this concept of public education and choice without having to directly fund individual schools," Allen said.
Under the program, a state tax credit would be available to individuals or businesses for donations made to authorized organizations. Those organizations then would use the money to fund tuition scholarships for eligible students to attend a school of their choice.
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"It's the people who need it the most, the poorest of the poor, those who are in failing schools, who would benefit," Allen said. "The beauty of it is the government of Illinois doesn't have to write a check. All they have to do is allow people to put their tax credits to that program instead of, for example, paying for energy-saving windows."
Allen says Gov. Bruce Rauner should offer up the idea as part of the ongoing school funding negotiations over Senate Bill 1. She suggests Rauner could agree to Democrats’ demands if they include the tax-credit scholarship program in a final version of the education-funding-formula legislation.
"It has to be part of the legislation,” Allen said. “It has to be permitted [to take effect]. And Bruce Rauner has to be willing to be bold and strong and deal this into the negotiations or we're going to be in the exact same place five years from now that we are today."
Allen says states like Florida and Indiana have had success with similar programs.
"What ends up happening is we see more competition,” Allen said. “What we've seen is higher graduation rates from the kids both in the private schools, local charter schools, and traditional public schools. We see higher retention. People move to these states because there's more opportunity for them to tailor the education of their child."
A 2010 study by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research found that students who received scholarships in Florida scored higher than their similar demographic peers in both reading and math. The same study found that Florida’s program has led to general improvements in the performance of Florida’s public schools.
"What we've actually seen is nothing short of an educational renaissance in communities where traditionally the status quo has just kept everyone in place or in reverse," Allen said.
Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program was launched six years ago and assists about 34,000 students at more than 300 schools.