Here are two quick stories on big issues we’re tackling for schools and members this month, followed by a list of quick things you can do to help keep public dollars in our public schools.

Members tell ISBE about newcomer needs

As educators throughout the district struggle to meet the needs of newcomers, members stepped up to appeal for help from the Illinois State Board of Education. On Wednesday, October 18, five CTU members attended the ISBE board meeting to speak to the needs we are seeing in our schools and advocate for the state to help. Gabriel Paez (Cameron), Dr. Diane Castro (Lorca), Sylvelia Pittman (Nash), Angie Benavides (Greeley), and Hazel Prentiss (Beethoven) all painted a picture for board members about the reality they are living in their classrooms every day as they do their best to support newcomer students.

Students arrive with urgent medical needs, and lacking basics such as shoes, socks, or even a fork and plate to eat meals at home. Students display high social and emotional needs and require help processing the trauma they have endured on their journey. Schools are seeing increased enrollment in their bilingual population without increased staffing. There are schools with tripled bilingual enrollment in the space of a single school year with no bilingual staff present.

Our members spoke about the incredible work happening in our schools to assist migrant families: fundraisers, clothes collections, food collections, and more. All of this is happening in our buildings — our members are stepping up and we need the state to step up as well.

Our members advocated for more funding, as our schools have not received additional funds from the state to address these urgent needs. We also advocated for interpretation services/devices, curriculum resources in the classroom, additional bilingual TAs and teachers in our classrooms, additional staff to administer ACCESS, a pause to teacher evaluations, stopping IAR testing for newcomers as it is only available in English, assistance in establishing bilingual programs to schools that historically have not had one, and assistance with housing. We also advocated for a paper-based preschool application, as the current online preschool application is not accessible to newcomer families with no internet.

We know that we need these supports in order to properly service ALL students. We are in a crisis situation, and we need an immediate crisis response from the state.

Beating back vouchers, an Illinois first

We have two weeks to beat back Illinois’ voucher program and become the first state in the nation to do so! As voucher proponents make last-ditch appeals clinging to their tax credit for wealthy private school donors, we have the opportunity to shut down the program that Bruce Rauner foisted on the Illinois legislature by holding public school funding hostage.

In 2017, as CTU fought for a need-based school funding program in Springfield, Rauner threatened to veto the groundbreaking legislation unless the act included his pet voucher program, misnamed “Invest in Kids.” That IIK amendment set up a tax incentive to funnel state money to private school scholarship funds. For every donation that wealthy donors added to one of these private school funds, the state would hand them back three quarters of that money from our tax dollars! Over the last six years, this IIK scam has siphoned some $450 million dollars from state programs and public schools into the pockets of these private school donors. Most of the schools that benefited have absolutely no Black scholarship recipients, most offer little to no special education services and several of them openly discriminate against LGBTQIA+ educators, families and students.

Underhanded voucher programs like IIK have proliferated across the country in the last 10 years. But we have a chance now to draw a line in the sand and send public school haters packing. By ending IIK, we can show the country that they don’t have to give in, that they can beat back these attacks on public school funding. Illinois would be setting an important precedent.

The fight in Springfield

As we head into the Fall Veto Session in Springfield, both sides are digging in for the final fight.

On Friday, October 20, a ridiculous proposal was floated by interests who hope to see this IIK voucher scam continue. Who would’ve thought that their “revised policy” would actually increase the benefits to the wealthy? Voucher supporters are clearly flailing, but we have more work to do in order to seal the deal, and we’re doing it.

We are so proud of our members who took time on October 19 to inform our parents about Invest in Kids and how it impacts our schools. Our members and other public school supporters are also taking time to share our thoughts via an email campaign to our elected officials in Springfield. We’re showing our support for the scheduled sunset of this program that greatly benefits the wealthy and not Illinois kids.

Here’s how you can help seal the deal:

  1. Reach out to your elected officials in Springfield, including the Governor, if you haven’t already. As they head back for the fall veto session, let them know our schools and students need their commitment to keeping public dollars in public schools by ending the Illinois voucher program.
  2. Share info to your networks: neighborhood allies, parent groups, friends, everyone! We’re finding out that most people have never heard of this program, and more than that don’t realize it’s a tax perk for the wealthy. They don’t know that the money goes to schools with zero accountability that discriminate against LGBTQIA+ students and ban books. Share our flier, share out links, start conversations!
  3. Boost our allies—the people and organizations who are in this fight with us! Watch for messaging you can share from folks like Illinois Families for Public SchoolsRep. Kelly Cassidy, and others who have worked and fought hard to end this Rauner-era scam.
  4. Refuse disinformation from bad actors! YES, scholarships can continue after Invest in Kids ends—if wealthy donors care about kids like they claim they do. NO, we are not against a parent’s right to choose a private school for their child. We just don’t think our tax dollars should fund private schools.
  5. Don’t let up! We have until November 9 to make sure this discriminatory, dishonest program ends as scheduled. Keep sharing, keep boosting, keep talking, and we can make history as the first state in the nation to kick the tax credit voucher scheme out of our schools!

Our students and our members have demanded fully resourced and fully staffed schools for years. Our collective voice and our collective actions allow us to continue reminding our elected leaders, at every level of government, that we will continue to fight for a more equitable system for our city.