He refused to call the bill.
So ended the last chapter for the advocates of the Invest in Kids Act (IIKA), the legislation that has provided for over 9600 scholarships for a majority of minority children who come from low income and working-class parents in Illinois for the past six years. The Illinois House adjourned early Thursday, November 9, so the Democrats could speed up I-55 to attend a political fundraiser in Chicago for President Joe Biden, leaving behind the hopes and dreams of thousands of parents and children, who thought, just maybe, they could pull off a miracle in Springfield and get their representatives to listen to them, not the teachers unions that funnel millions of dollars into their re-election campaigns.
The votes were there to easily pass the legislation. Speaker Emmanuel (Chris) Welch, the Black leader of the House, who can afford the expensive tuition for his children to attend Timothy Christian, claimed he needed 71 committed yes votes from his caucus of 78 Democrats. Since when in a democracy do only Democrats vote on legislation? Only 60 votes in the House of Representatives were necessary to send the bill to the Senate for approval. These votes were committed and firm – 37 of the 78 Democrats and all 40 of the House Republicans were yes votes (according to our Democratic co-sponsors of HB 4194 – the extension bill). But the almighty Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) – the most powerful union in the United States – along with its monster bank roll and threats of primarying non supporters – forced and coerced Speaker Welch not to call the bill. The Illinois Education Association (IEA) and Illinois Federal of Teachers (IFT) were also issuing threats of withdrawing money and primarying low-income and working-class supporters. The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) told members that if the IIKA would be extended, it would mobilize against those legislators.
Yet, the House had time to pass legislation approving an elected Chicago school board and pension legislation for Chicago police officers.
What about our Governor? Governor JB Pritzker has danced around the issue for five years and continued to waffle in the final days clearly not supporting the educational interests of the parents. Did you know that the Pritzker Family Foundation (PFF) donated over $100 million to various universities in 2022, more than the $75 million cap of the IIKA!
The only unions in support of the program were Labor Unions because they want an educated workforce. The teachers’ unions, those who claim to be all about education, were the ones fighting expanded educational opportunities for children. Think about that.
What about our Joliet area legislators? Democratic Representatives Larry Walsh, Jr. and Harry Benton were yes votes. Both men had listened to their constituents and knew that this legislation was creating meaningful opportunities for families who wanted a better life for their children. Thank you, Representatives Walsh and Benton, for your commitments, especially in the face of threats from the teachers’ unions.
Representative Natalie Manley, one of the members of Speaker Welch’s house leadership team, was sympathetic and attentive to our cause. Had our compromise bill been called, I believe she was a yes vote. But apparently, she could not get her boss to put the bill out for a vote. She has expressed a desire to help craft a bill in the 2024 session that can secure the votes for passage. We will rely on your promise, Representative Manley. Perhaps she will first secure the votes from her caucus to become Speaker of the House. At least she would show up on the house floor, something Speaker Welch studiously avoids doing if he can.
Our Democratic Senators, however, marched to the drum of the teachers’ unions. Why not? State Senator Meg Cappel receives handsome amounts of campaign contributions from teachers’ unions. She was also a former school teacher’s union representative. Senator Rachel Ventura was another hard no. I spoke with her in Springfield after a committee meeting, and it was obvious that she did not even understand the financial details of the bill.
Nonetheless, thank you to everyone in our community who supported the bill. The Will Grundy Building Trades Council was a staunch supporter, especially since it carved out opportunities for advancements in our trades, a much needed objective. Thank you to Mayor Terry D’Arcy and the Joliet City Council for their steadfast support, as well as to the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce. Our supporters will remain committed as we launch another campaign to resurrect the program.
So what will happen in our community? The affects will not only be felt by the current scholarship recipients. Some schools will close (throughout the entire state, in fact). All those students, not just the scholarship students, will have to find another school that best fits their needs. I thought the Democratic Party was the presumed party of choice (school choice? No!) and was the presumed party for minorities and low-income families.
I experienced countless number of victories and defeats with legislative bodies in my legal career. But I can’t think of one time that I prepared for a game that was not only never played, but the other side was declared the victor! Especially with consequences like this one. Political careers were chosen over children in Springfield last week. It’s a sad day for Illinois.
Michael W Hansen is a retired Joliet lawyer who was involved in the attempted extension of the Invest in Kids Act and is a donor in the Invest in Kids Act.