March 23, 2022

By: Katie Clancy

Governor Pritzker has grand plans for education in Illinois. Universal pre-k, larger investments in “evidence based funding,” and free community college to name a few. 

The only problem with these “transformative investments?” None of them provide tangible improvements to student outcomes. 

Unfortunately, student achievement in Illinois is dismal. In 2022, only 16% of students were reading at grade level and only 15% at target or advanced levels in mathematics. Truly dismal, tragic numbers that will alter the future of these young kids’ lives. 

Pritzker, like most Illinois politicians, sees this as an opportunity to do the only thing he knows; propose more funding in the budget to try and solve the problem to show he cares.

These big numbers capture flashy headlines. But what’s “transformative” about throwing more money at a system that is the cause of the problem? Where are the follow ups on how that money is actually spent or how this will improve student outcomes and not just put butts in seats? 

For example, the National Opportunity Project (NOP) found that Pritzker had $46 million in federal COVID relief funds at his disposal to disperse to non-public schools. These funds, known as Emergency Assistance to Nonpublic Schools (EANS), were specifically earmarked for non-public schools and were sitting wasting away when schools and families deserve those funds. 

Thanks to public pressure from NOP and independent, private, and parochial school leaders and advocates, the money will be allocated to non-public schools and not revert to the governor’s general fund. 

It begs the question, why did it take more than two years to allocate these funds to the schools that  rightly deserved it? 

It also continues to underscore Pritzker’s poor policy decision to allow school districts to remain closed, some for almost two years, and the detrimental effect it had on students and teachers’ ability to educate.   

Pritzker’s proposal with large dollar signs isn’t rewriting the book on education policy in Illinois. He’s using the same old archaic government-centric policies that have failed Illinois students for decades.

Meanwhile, Governors Kim Reynolds from Iowa, Ron DeSantis from Florida, and Sarah Sanders from Arkansas are education innovators and flipping the script on what politicians have done for decades. They are funding students directly instead of an unaccountable, bloated public school system. 

School choice is this generation’s biggest civil rights issue, and Pritzker refuses to change with the times and support parents who want more choices in their child’s educational opportunities. 

School choice policies may be controversial in teacher union circles, but not with the American people as a whole. A poll from last summer found that 72% of Americans support school choice, including an overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats. 

So what is Governor Pritzker waiting for? Other states are delivering opportunities for families and Pritzker is still stuck in his old ways.   

Pritzker’s policies suggest two things: 

  1. He prefers to be judged on how much money he is spending, not what the outcomes are for students, and
  2. He also is very specific on who he thinks deserves education dollars. And that’s not non-public schools. Otherwise, he would open the floodgates and empower all families to take their education dollars to a school of their choice and it wouldn’t have taken two years and public pressure to disperse EANS while students struggled. 

If things continue this way, Pritzker will succeed in winning flashy headlines, but those who stand to lose the most, Illinois families, will be left behind. 


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