National School Choice Week exposes deficiencies in Illinois’s educational system

January 31, 2012

In sync with parents, children, teachers and community leaders throughout this nation who celebrated National School Choice Choice Week from January 22nd through the 26th, the Illinois Policy Institute likewise participated in the week out of its conviction to continue the fight for school choice here in Illinois.  

But before proceeding with the Illinois Policy Institute’s involvement in National School Choice Week, it is important that school choice be defined. 

The term covers a wide array of programs that provide families the opportunity to choose the school that their children will attend. 

The most common school choice options are tax credits and deductions for expenses related to schooling, charter schools, vouchers, homeschooling, and recently on-line learning technology which is making it possible to completely redesign schooling by providing school reformers with powerful news tools.

In a recent newsletter received from the Illinois Policy Institute, highly praised was a group called K12 Inc., founded by Ron Packard who opened two charter schools unlike anything Illinois has ever seen, which utilize on-line learning technology.

Vouchers represent a school choice option not sanctioned in Illinois.  A measure was defeated in the Illinois House of Representatives on May 5th of 2010, which would have allowed students in Chicago’s worst performing and most-overcrowed elementary schools to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools.  Fervent lobbying by unions defeated legislation that would have given students $3,700 in vouchers to switch to a private or parochial school from a public school.

Charter schools are found in a majority of states and the District of Columbia.  Illinois does permit charter school.  A measure which would have allowed students in Chicago’s worst-performing and most-overcrowded elementary schools to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools was defeated in May of 2010 after being championed by the then Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago).  Fervent lobbying by unions sank the idea to give students $3,700 to switch to a private or parochial school.

The “Chicago International Charter School (CICS) is the largest charter school operating in Illinois and is a front runner of leadership in the Illinois school reform movement.  CICS operates a network of 16 campuses across the city of Chicago and Rockford, Illinois, serving more than 9,200 students in K through12th grade. 

Charter schools are privately managed public school.  CICS is therefore publicly funded, tuition-free and open to all city children regardless of income or academic ability. 

Collin Hitt, Senior Director of Government Affairs and an education specialist at the Illinois Policy Institute, as a proponent of charter schools, has worked with the CICS on state legislation and contributed to its journal, Focal Point.  Collin’s work at the IPI focuses on better educational options for Illinois children, such as school choice, education funding and education reform. 

It was through Collin Hitt that I was able to observe an example of school choice in action.  Collin was the initiator in inviting an all-volunteer choir of youngsters from grades 2nd through 6th from Bucktown campus, a Chicago International Charter School, to perform a selection of holiday song at an Illinois Policy Institute event on Wednesday, December 7th.  To read more about Bucktown campus and the December 7th IPI holiday event, see this link:

As referenced above, the Illinois Policy Institute is committed to fighting for school choice in Illinois.   As such It was only fitting that National School Choice Week received the attention it deserved from the IPI.

On Monday, January 26, Juan Williams and Michael Medved appeared in support of National School Choice Week at Trinity National University.  John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, participated in the event.

Michael Medved, a syndicated radio host and political commentator discussed the overbearing and largely unnecessary role the federal government plays in the American education system.  Medved’s salient take away thought was “Let the money stay home.”

Juan William, a journalist and Fox News political analyst, clearly defined the problem as a quasi-monopoly education system supported by weak politicians that kowtow to the demands of special interests instead of putting students first.  William’s equally important message was “Power to the parents is heart and soul of school choice.”

On Wednesday, January 25, the Illinois Policy Institute scheduled its own telephone conference call to commemorate National School Choice Week. Moderating the conference call was Brain Costin, Director of Outreach.  Collin Hitt, in his role as Senior Director of Governmental Affairs, and Michael Wille, Education Policy Analyst, were on hand to discuss the following:

1.  Forty-one states introduced school choice legislation in 2011, with 13 states successfully enacting bills into law.

2.  Nine out of the top 10 open-enrolled high schools in Chicago were charter schools based on ACT scores.

3. Every single analysis has shown that students who accept vouchers have seen positive benefits including improved test scores, higher graduation rates and increased parental satisfaction.

Not everyone agrees that school choice is for everyone.  To the contrary, Maureen Costello, Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, called National School Choice Week “a well-orchestrated PR event to celebrate ‘school choice. 

 Regarding school choice, Ms. Costello has this to say:

School choice doesn’t magically improve education.  Charter school proponents may argue that a free market, where parents get to pick and choose among educational options, will produce competition and better schools, but the date says otherwise.

Having down played the success of charter schools, most likely Ms. Costello’s opinion regarding voucher distribution is not unlike her critique of charter schools.

Right next door to Illinois in Wisconsin voucher distribution is working.  Reporter M.D. Kittle, writes of Wisconsin’s success in an article published prior to National School Week, which can be found at the following link:  and     

One success story reported by Kittle involves the Messmer Catholic Schools.  In Milwaukee, where half of back males do not graduate from high school, at Messmer 85% of students graduated and continued on to a four-year college, 4% went on to a two-year school or into the military, with only a 1% percent dropout rate. 

Incidentally, Milwaukee has led the way since 1990 when Gov. Tommy Thompson cleared the way for Catholic schools to accept voucher students.

Across the nation vouchers have been maligned and discredited by teacher unions for reasons aimed at protecting their own turfs.   As such it is not surprising that Milwaukee’s school choice program success has been targeted as bogus in what it purports. 

Not so according to Greg Foster, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice!  Foster relates a new set of empirical studies recently released on the Milwaukee voucher program that are being spun in a misleading way.  His data clearly show that vouchers are delivering an improved education to Milwaukee students.   Read more about the spin noted by Greg Foster at:

What is School Choice? was best summed up for me by Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children through their foundation, The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice.

What is School Choice?

School Choice is…

a common sense idea that gives every parent the power and freedom to choose their children’s education.

Common Sense

It is immoral that the quality of schooling is based on the value and location of your home.  School choice gives parents the freedom to choose a school based on its quality and their child’s needs, not their home address.

Parent Power

Most people can’t afford to pay twice for education, once in taxes and once in private school tuition.  School choice gives parents financial power by letting them use public funds set aside for education to send their children to a public or private school of their choice.

Parent Freedom

In America, children are assigned to a school based on where their parents live.  School choice gives parents the freedom to choose a school — public or private, near or far, religious or secular — that works best for their children regardless of where they live.

Great Education

Public education in American just isn’t working anymore no matter what we try or how much we spend.  School choice forces all schools — public and private — to offer the best education possible in order to recruit and retain students.

Well said, Milton and Rose Friedman, and amen to a perfect finish!




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