By Froylan Jimenez
May 17, 2023
All students deserve a competent and loving teacher, all schools need the proper materials and personnel to offer a quality education and all parents should be awarded the opportunity to make the educational choice that is best for their children. In that respect, I strongly support Illinois’ “Invest in Kids” need-based scholarship program and encourage parents, educators and elected officials to do the same.
As a 16-year public school teacher and coach, I have experienced the structural challenges as well as the satisfaction of educating at Chicago Public Schools. I have seen firsthand how students are lacking school resources in many ways and how teachers and parents alike wish more was done to help these students. I have also seen the resiliency, and gravitas CPS students provide in overcoming systematic disadvantages. I believe in public education and won’t hesitate to once again participate in strikes in order to safeguard what is in the best interest for public school students and their families.
Similarly, I am willing to publicly demand the rights of low-income families who choose to send their children to parochial schools, charter schools or home school. These students and their families also merit attention and the same concerns and fairness in schooling apply.
In short, education should not be a zero-sum game where some students get more and some less, or where school funding is lopsided in favor of some schools and underfunding others. It is absolutely possible to invest in all our students regardless of what school they attend. Basing funding decisions on student need is certainly one way to achieve this attainable goal.
This is the case with the “Invest in Kids” program where the State of Illinois offers tuition scholarships to low-income families that are below a given percentage ranging between 185% to 400% below the Federal Poverty line. Parents in these high need areas experiencing low graduation and low test scores can then choose to use the scholarships to send their kids to schools that best fit their child’s needs. Qualifying students must attend a school that is recognized and monitored by the Illinois State Board of Education. Both individuals or businesses can donate to the Invest in Kids program and receive a tax credit while making it possible for more low-income students with the most need to attend the school of their choice. Individual donors may designate their donation to go to a specific school in their community but not to a specific student. Annual reports on the scholarship recipients, the contributions, participating schools are mandatory and overall finance audit on this program is required.
Some may critique the Invest in Kids program as an educational program that helps private schools, hurts public schools and fuels funding inequalities. This could not be further from the truth. The Invest in Kids program is supported by Governor J.B. Pritzker for many reasons but above all precisely because it advances the need of low-income families that are suffering the most when it comes to educational gaps and require as many alternatives as possible and solutions to help their children overcome their income disadvantages. Public education is funded by property taxes in Illinois and the disparity between various school districts is tremendously unfair. The funding system is in need of a substantial overhaul but until that day comes having a way for low-income families to offset their low-funded school district with need-based scholarships is definitely a step in the right direction. While I’m a public school teacher, I can see the benefit of offering choice and assistance to low-income families to help their kid’s education. Scholarships matter and there should be more access and more opportunities to all students based on a family’s economic situation and academic needs.
Furthermore, contrary to what some may claim, government funding is not exclusive to public education programs. Take for example the Head Start program, Federal Pell grant, the GI Bill which helps veterans pay for private or public school or training, and most notably the State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants which are also awarded based on a student’s financial need to pay for tuition and other post-secondary educational expenses. These MAP grants are approved for low-income students to be used at both public and private two-and four-year colleges and based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After all, this is essentially the equity funding objective at any level of education, to get students with the most economic need to excel in their education.
Loan Forgiveness for college tuition is another need-based financial and educational topic. President Biden has pressed for loan forgiveness alternatives to leveling the playing field on our nation’s public and private education expenses. Illinois should follow the President’s lead in offering solutions and opportunities for all students.
The Invest in Kids program expires January 1, 2024. As a teacher that views education holistically and advocates for funding fairness based on need, I urge members of the Illinois General Assembly and our Governor to uphold and renew this essential program as a way to prove Illinois values equity in education and won’t let politics stand in the way of financial academic need.
Froylan Jimenez is a Chicago Public School Civics Teacher and CTU union member. He is an elected Local School Council Advisory Board member that provides monthly input to the Chicago Board of Education.