Heartland Institute's Jarratt voices concern about future of Invest in Kids Act under Pritzker
State government-relations manager Lennie Jarratt is hoping that Gov. J.B. Pritzker does not put dollars over sense when it comes to improving the educational opportunities of students trapped in some of the most underachieving Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
“I think he wants to try to cap it and, over time, phase it out completely,” Jarratt, project manager for the Center for Transforming Education at The Heartland Institute, recently told Chicago City Wire of rumors that the Invest in Kids Act is on the new governor’s hit list. “I think he feels like if the program ends, that means more revenue flowing into the state.”
In a recent Heartland Institute article, Jarratt wrote what he thinks the real cost would be for such a decision.
“It’s a bad idea because through programs like the Invest in Kids Act, many kids from low-income neighborhoods are now getting the chance to have access to quality schooling as opposed to being stuck somewhere not serving their needs,” he wrote. “The focus can’t be so about money that we lose sight of matters like that.”
The Invest in Kids Act operates on the strength of a tax-credit scholarship program that allows students a greater list of school choices. The program also allows private individuals and corporations the option of donating to a scholarship-granting organization and the chance to receive a 75-percent tax credit on their investment.
Eligible students are awarded scholarship funding on a first-come, first serve basis. The program is capped at $100 million in donations or $75 million in tax credits over each of the next five years.
In arguing that the program should be expanded as opposed to fighting for survival, Jarratt tells the story of Jamari Dent, an 11-year-old CPS student now on life-support after attempting suicide following months of bullying at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School.
"Shockingly, Jamari’s school ignored warning signs and pleas for help by the boy’s mother,” Jarratt wrote. “Jamari and thousands of other students should have the ability to escape mistreatment when schools refuse to or cannot stop bullying by other students, teachers and staff.”
On the academic front, a 2018 Illinois School Report Card release concluded that just over one in three Illinois students (37 percent) now meet or exceed basic standards in English language arts, and less than one-third achieved proficiency in math.
Jarratt said Pritzker has not commented much publicly on the pushback he has received for even considering putting Invest in Kids on the chopping block.
“He’s too busy focusing on things like his pursuit of a progressive tax,” Jarratt told Chicago City Wire. “It’s anybody’s guess how this is going to go, but hopefully the governor will come to realize that the minor amount of money for this program doesn’t really impact much and allow it to go on. I mean, it sunsets in five years, so we need to at least let that play out and see the difference.”
In the meantime, Jarratt said all the recent rhetoric is having a negative impact on the program. Donations are down by 39 percent compared to first-year contributions, meaning scholarship funds may soon be available to even fewer students.