Union president’s school choice sparks debate over Illinois’ expiring program

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(The Center Square) – Officials from across Illinois are sharing their views on whether the state should extend the Invest In Kids school choice scholarship program, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

The program allows donors to get a 75% Illinois income tax credit toward donations to fund school choice scholarships for qualified families throughout the state. However, the program is set to sunset at the end of the year. With lawmakers soon to be in veto session, some are looking for an extension.

GOP Chairman Don Tracy said the program should be extended.

“They should be [parents] thinking that this Invest In Kids Act that lets 9,000 low-income kids have a choice, a choice that higher-income people have but lower-income people don’t, that they should lobby for that not to be killed by the Democrats,” Tracy told The Center Square.

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, who has openly fought against the state’s school choice program, sends her child to a private school, it was recently revealed.

“We can all agree that options for Black students, their families and entire Black communities on this city’s South and West Sides are limited,” she said in a letter to union members reported by Wirepoints. “Nearly all lack the thriving extracurricular activities, sports programs, wraparound services or other ingredients that make for a high-quality neighborhood public school.”

Davis Gates said that forced her and her husband “to send our son, after years of attending a public school, to a private high school so he could live out his dream of being a soccer player while also having a curriculum that can meet his social and emotional needs, even as his two sisters remain in Chicago Public Schools.”

Some have called Davis Gates out over the “hypocrisy” of her posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, that school choice was “actually the choice of racists” and that it was designed to “avoid integrating schools with Black children.”

“The recent stories regarding school choice opponent and Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates’ own decision for her children’s education highlight the hypocrisy in the opposition to extending the Invest in Kids Program,” a statement from Illinois Senate Minority Leader John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said. “Ms. Gates has every right to make that choice, and hopefully, now that her decision is public, she will join our fight to allow the same opportunities for lower-income, less connected families as well.”

Tracy said school choice should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

“We need to make that choice available to not just the children of wealthy big union presidents or big union bosses, but it ought to be available to everybody,” Tracy said.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, did not comment directly on whether the Invest in Kids Act should be extended but said it should be up to the parents to do what they believe is best for their children.

“I believe every child should have the opportunity to go to the school that their parents choose for them to go to. Period,” Ford told The Center Square.

Ford said the choice by Davis Gates to send her child to a private school speaks to another issue he sees.

“We cannot miss that her decision to place her [child] in a school outside of Chicago Public Schools speaks volumes to the deficit in those schools,” Ford said.

Taxpayers fund Chicago Public Schools to the tune of nearly $28,000 per student. The state average is around $16,000, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

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