American Federation for Children Calls on Illinois Officials to Expand Educational Options for Children

Chicago teachers union strike emphasizes need to put students first by enacting school choice

The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice— today called on Illinois policymakers to begin  focusing on parents and children most in need by supporting comprehensive school choice in Illinois.

While various news outlets are reporting an expected end to the Chicago teachers union strike in the coming days, children enrolled in Chicago public schools have already lost at least a week of school, a significant educational setback for a population in which nearly 40 percent of students will not graduate from high school and nearly nine in 10 come from low-income backgrounds.

The plight of the nearly 350,000 students who have gone a week without attending a full day of school—many of whom will return to underperforming and sometimes unsafe schools upon the strike’s end—has for years accentuated the urgent need to offer expanded educational options to Illinois families.

“The teachers union strike has made clear to parents in the city that the well-being of children is not the most important thing to the adults in charge of the educational system, and that’s unacceptable,” said Kevin P. Chavous, senior advisor to the American Federation for Children.  “It’s a travesty that many parents who are forced to keep their kids out of school for a week will then have no choice but send them back into failing learning environments, and, now more than ever, it’s time that Illinois legislators did something about it.”

There is precedent in Illinois for legislative action on expanded educational choice. In 2010, the state Senate passed a bill that would have created a voucher program for low-income families in the state, and there is also strong support for vouchers among some of Chicago’s most prominent leaders, including Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza (D), Cardinal Francis George, and State Senator James Meeks (D), the sponsor of the parental choice  bill two years ago in the State Senate.

In recent days, the Chicago Tribune has written forcefully about the value of vouchers, also interviewing the leaders at Chicago private schools who have expressed a desire to take in some of the displaced students. And in neighboring states, including, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio, more than 60,000 children from predominantly low-income families currently benefit from publicly-funded private school choice programs.

Independent research on school choice has repeatedly demonstrated the success of educational options.  A recent study by the Brookings Institute and Harvard University showed that African American participants in a private school choice program were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college as a result of receiving a voucher.  And in Washington, D.C., children in the Opportunity Scholarship Program graduate from high school at a rate more than 30 percentage points higher than public school students.

Chavous said that the success of school choice elsewhere is an indication of how valuable it could be to low-income families in Chicago and throughout Illinois whose children are trapped in failing schools.

“We’ve seen school choice save thousands of children across America, in many cities facing some of the same challenges facing Chicago,” Chavous said. “It’s time that we give children in the Windy City the same opportunity to succeed that is being offered right next door and across the country.”