The Illinois Policy Institute is advocating for voucher-funded education -- where the state distributes money to parents for their child's education and the parents can use the money for their child to attend a school of their choice rather than giving money directly to public school districts.
A spokesman for the state's teacher's union is against implementing a voucher program in Illinois.
Josh Dwyer, director of education reform for the Illinois Policy Institute, said the institute supports a "money following the child" approach to funding education.
"We think it's the right thing to do morally speaking. Parents should be able to make that decision for their child," Dwyer said. In addition, he said it would promote competition between schools.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman David Comerford said, "There is not one credible study that shows vouchers work. In fact, a study from the University of Illinois confirms about 40 years of research into this subject showing that once background differences between public and private school students are accounted for, private schools do not outperform public schools," Comerford said in an emailed statement. "In Illinois, we have recently enacted landmark education reforms and for those reforms to work, we must provide more support to our schools, not less. Reforms in Senate Bill 7 and the Common Core Standards will affect every child in every school. Vouchers only target a select few."
Comerford described the Illinois Policy Institute as "a corporate funded front group that wants to dismantle public schools."
The institute says it is "a nonpartisan research and education organization dedicated to making Illinois a beacon for liberty and prosperity for all citizens."
On Thursday, Dwyer will make a presentation about how the state finances public education and how a voucher-funded education would impact students. The meeting will be held 5:30-6:30 p.m. at 17th Street Barbecue at 1711 W. U.S. Highway 50 in O'Fallon.
Dwyer said the state is in a "big budget crunch" as a result of the pension issue, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a spending increase of $900 million to teacher pensions while cutting $400 million for classrooms and students.
The way the state currently funds public education is "very complex," according to Dwyer. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he said.
Dwyer explained districts across the state receive different levels of funding based on several factors including local property tax rates and the number of low-income students.
"Districts receive a certain amount of money depending on the size of their low-income population," Dwyer said. "They receive more money if they have more low-income students."
In addition, he said school districts that have low attendance rates can actually receive more money than districts with a higher attendance rate.
With the current education funding system, Dwyer said some school districts are benefiting a lot while others are not. He said voucher-funded education would improve the quality of education provided to students in Illinois as schools would be competing against one another.
The limited voucher programs in Indiana and Milwaukee, Wis., have benefited students, according to Dwyer.
On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a 2011 law providing vouchers for low- and middle-income families. Unlike voucher programs in other states, which are limited to poor families and failing school districts, the Indiana program is open to a much broader range of people, including parents with household incomes of up to nearly $64,000 for a family of four.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program allows students who reside in the city of Milwaukee and meet certain eligibility requirements to attend participating private or religious schools, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. The private school, on behalf of each student's parent, receives a state aid payment for each eligible choice student.
The Illinois Policy Institute's presentation on education reform Thursday is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the institute at 312-346-5700.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.