It’s mostly been “All Quiet on the Western Front” since Democrats and Republicans negotiated a peace treaty on the state’s new school-funding reform bill, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports.
But there’s just one part of the compromise that has especially irked teachers unions and the left side of the political aisle: a $75 million tax credit program—a.k.a., a voucher program—for poor and low middle-income families to use for tuition at a private school if they need to escape “failing” public schools.
State Sen Daniel Bliss, a Democrat who is running to replace Gov Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called that section of the law “an insidious right-wing plot,” the paper reported. And Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, had even more:
[The new law is a] clear violation of the state constitution [because] we’ve allowed the state now to sponsor private church-run schools.
So, then you have to say, well, is it worth it? Did we get enough goodies that we’re willing to live with a violation of the constitution? And I don’t know if that’s ever worth it.
The truth is, once you abandon the constitution, you abandon the rule of law. Once you abandon the rule of law, you descend into the rule of the jungle. And you abandon this notion—well, the Golden Rule, I suppose—that do unto others as you’d like them to do unto you, and replace it with Rauner’s Golden Rule, which is, ‘He who has the gold makes the rules,’ and that’s what has occurred in this funding bill.
Voxitatis has reported that published research, most recently out of Stanford University, shows voucher programs to be ineffective. They have also been wildly unpopular at the ballot box, being defeated dozens of time in dozens of states for the past three or four decades.
But effective or not, wise or unwise, vouchers are now the law in Illinois, as they are in Maryland. And despite well-conceived arguments against their constitutionality, the Supreme Court hasn’t struck them down anywhere in the country and, in fact, has been pretty clear that they are allowed under the First Amendment.
A history of voucher programs in other states shows that they’re most commonly used for tuition at private schools that are affiliated with a religious organization, such as a Catholic church. Support for a specific religious institution isn’t written into the law verbatim, so there’s no explicit establishment of a state-sponsored religion, but that’s usually where voucher funds end up. Probably because public schools don’t require students and their families to pay tuition just to go to school.