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Tax Reform Provisions for Private K-12 Education: Unintended Consequences?

by John Gordon

While the final language is not yet out, members of the conference committee on federal tax legislation have reportedly reached an agreement on the outlines of a compromise bill. Going into the conference committee, one area of agreement in the House and Senate proposals was a measure that takes direct aim at public education: subsidizing private school tuition for wealthy families.

Both the House and Senate bills included provisions that would expand the 529 college saving account plan, which allows parents to save money and withdraw that money for higher education expenses (tax-free) to also cover up to $10,000 of tuition at private and parochial schools. (Language in the Senate bill also covers home schooling expenses.) The provision is a federal subsidy for private and parochial school tuition.

As it currently stands, 529 plans are used by largely upper-income households (median income of $142,400) and by making the proposed changes, it will only increase the growing inequality in educational attainment between high-income families and low and middle-income families. The planned expansion of this tax break is welcomed by school choice advocates, who argue that public schools are unable to properly educate students and should be more market-oriented. However, this planned expansion would be largely unavailable to low and middle-income families.

In reality, this plan does not really expand school choice options to anyone. It actually undercuts the savings benefits of the plan if they are used for private and parochial K-12 tuition. Pulling out the money sooner both lessens the tax benefit of the plan and leaves less money available in the plan for college. If you are a wealthy family, this is not much of a problem. But if you are a middle class or low-income family, it would be very unwise to use this money before college. The only real beneficiaries of this expansion would be people who are high-income and wish to have the government subsidize their kids private school tuition.

Withdrawing funds from the savings plans sooner rather than later could also have implications on the investment strategies employed by states and fund managers. Such changes could impact the eventual rates of return for all participants in 529 programs.

Along with capping the deduction for local property taxes and/or state and local income and sales taxes at $10,000, the 529 measures could set back public funding for education. Combined with the trillion dollar plus increase to the federal deficit the tax bill could bring, it’s another demonstration of why our members of Congress need to vote down this bill.

Tasha Green Cruzat Commentary: Turn down the Senate tax bill

At the end of the day, the federal tax reform debate comes down to a simple fact: Everyday working families will likely end up paying more for health care, housing, and college, so U.S. businesses can get a large tax cut. At least, those that actually pay taxes.

Combined with other tax relief measures in the bill, the Senate tax reform plan would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next ten years. Businesses would dramatically benefit from this bill which begs the questions, who will pay for all of this?

  • Perhaps it will be one of the 1.5 million Illinois children whose health insurance is covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Perhaps it will be one of the more than 40,000 Illinois children served by Head Start.
  • Perhaps it will be taken from the nearly $2 billion in federal funding received by Illinois in 2016 for housing assistance.
  • Perhaps it will be one of the nearly 300,000 Illinois students who receive a federal Pell grant for college.

In addition, the Senate bill repeals the federal deduction for state and local taxes. This measure, along with potentially severe cuts in federal funds that flow to Illinois, would only compound the serious financial condition our state still faces.

Tax decreaseCongress has three choices for dealing with any increased federal debt. It could offset the amounts in federal spending cuts, it could let sequestration—which automatically enacts federal spending cuts to reduce the deficit—kick-in, or it could amend the sequestration law and just increase the federal debt. Increasing the debt by $1.4 trillion likely puts a host of critical domestic spending programs at risk including Medicaid, child care, and low-income housing assistance. While the sequestration law may protect some programs, there will still be a great deal of pain.

Looking for a way to reduce the deficit increase, the Senate amended its bill by adding a measure to repeal the provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring most people to secure health insurance or pay a penalty.

How does that reduce the deficit? Fewer people seeking health care would mean the federal government pays out fewer subsidies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under this provision the number of Americans without health insurance would increase by 13 million. If you choose to continue purchasing insurance for your family, you could see your health care premium increase by 10 percent. This could effectively put health insurance out of reach for some people. Yet, if those individuals get sick and go to emergency rooms, you could still pay for their care when the hospital passes along the uninsured costs to everyone else.

The tax reform proponents use the long-held, and long-discredited, belief that tax cuts for the richest Americans will lead to a positive financial trickle-down effect for working and middle-class Americans. It probably will only make life worse for them. While some middle-class families will get some initial tax relief with the measures contained in the bill, it won’t last long. While the corporate tax cut would be permanent, those benefiting middle-class families would decrease in value and ultimately disappear at the end of 2025.

Working and middle-class families cannot be asked to bear the burden for financial relief to the most well-off businesses and individuals. Tax reform should focus on helping American families improve their standard of living and access to economic opportunities, not squeezing valuable social service programs that benefit them.

Tasha Green Cruzat
President, Voices for Illinois Children



Looking at the Fragile State of Public Higher Education in Illinois

Attaining a college degree has never been more important for economic success than it is in the 21st century. The public university system is also the epicenter of the nation’s research apparatus, paving the way for the advancements that have affected every aspect of modern life. Yet, in spite of the essential nature of a thriving higher education system, Illinois is falling behind and jeopardizing the state’s ability to be a thriving economic epicenter for the United States and the entire world.

It is difficult to fully grasp the damage done to the higher education system in Illinois due to the recent, two-year long budget impasse. For the two years, Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 16) and Fiscal Year 2017 (FY 17), the state did not have a full budget.  During this time, all but one of the nine public universities experienced a decline of over 20% in their state funding from FY 15 levels. Three universities (University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University, and Southern Illinois University) and the community college system saw a decrease of over 35%. This required universities and community colleges to take steps in order to save money, such as layoffs, mandating furlough days for remaining staff, and shuttering whole programs.

  FY16-17 Ave. % change from FY 15         FY 18 % change from FY 15
Chicago State University $29,805,700 -18.0% $32,697,400 -10.0%
Eastern Illinois University $30,507,100 -29.0% $38,678,100 -10.0%
Governors State University $18,409,050 -23.5% $21,656,000 -10.0%
Illinois State University $55,258,850 -23.5% $65,004,000 -10.0%
Northeastern Illinois University $28,230,300 -23.5% $33,209,000 -10.0%
Northern Illinois University $58,747,950 -35.5% $81,983,500 -10.0%
Southern Illinois University $128,554,550 -35.6% $180,912,800 -9.3%
University of Illinois $415,221,800 -35.8% $583,005,900 -9.9%
Western Illinois University $37,377,400 -27.3% $46,300,700 -10.0%
Community Colleges $176,316,400 -36.0% $248,030,500 -10.0%


It comes as no surprise that during this time, most universities experienced a noticeable decline in enrollment. Between 2015-2017, only Illinois State University and two of the U of I campuses (Urbana-Champaign and Chicago) saw enrollment increases. The most drastic enrollment declines occurred at Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Western Illinois University.1


Chart source: Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE)

While the last two years have been a trying time for the state’s higher education system, the problems that face our public universities and community colleges stretch back much farther. Beginning in 2002, Illinois has steadily decreased its investment in the public university system. As shown in the graph below, in the year 2000, state funds used to make up approximately 72% of the revenue received by universities, as opposed to 28% from university income funds (mostly tuition and fees). By 2015, state income funds made up just 39% of revenue, while university income funds made up 61% of universities revenue.2

State General FundsChart source:  IBHE

Community colleges have also seen a decrease in state funding since the year 2002. This drop is not as severe as the drop seen in university funding.  Community colleges also receive local property tax revenue. In 2000, state funds made up 28% of community colleges annual revenue, with local property taxes accounting for 55% and student tuition and fees making up 27%. In 2015, state funds accounted for 15% of their revenue, with property taxes accounting for 59% and student tuition and fees accounting for 44%.3

Trends in Educational Revenue

Chart source:  IBHE

With the plummet in state funding in 2016-2017, along with the 10% cut in funding in the FY 18 budget, this troubling trend continues despite the growing demand for college graduates in the economy.

Illinois also faces a problem when it comes to who is going to and completing college. Low-income and minority students, while seeing an increase in the last decade in terms of enrollment, are still lagging behind their non-low-income and white counterparts. Cost is a major factor behind these disparities.  Families with median incomes typically need to set aside 25% of their income to pay for a four-year college education; that number is 63% for low-income families.4

2-4 Institutions

Percentage of Family Income Needed to Pay for Full-Time Enrollment at Public Institutions, 2014

Chart source:  IBHE

This is made even more problematic when considered alongside the fact that the Monetary Award Program (MAP) is not keeping up with these rising costs. In the beginning of the 21st century, the maximum MAP award could pay for almost all the tuition and fees of a low-income student. This is not even close to being the case now.5
Figure 2Chart source:  IBHE

Competition rates are another area of concern, especially with minority students. Black and Latino college students in Illinois are much less likely to complete their degrees than their white counterparts.6

Figure 5

Illinois Graduation Rate Within 150% of Normal Time; By Level of Institution and Race/Ethnicity. 2015

Chart source:  IBHE

Overall, the current state of higher education in Illinois needs serious improvement. It can be reasonably inferred that the root cause of the problems in the state stem from the dramatic decrease in public investment. If adequately funding our universities and community colleges does not become a serious priority, then it is unlikely that we will see an improvement in any of these enrollment and completion numbers.  This in turn will hobble our ability to produce an educated workforce that will sustain Illinois as the economic powerhouse of the Midwest. We owe it to present and future college students in Illinois, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to do better.


1.  IBHE Data Points
2. IBHE Fiscal Year 2017 Higher Education Budget Recommendations: Operations, Grants, and Capital Improvements
3. IBHE Fiscal Year 2017 Higher Education Budget Recommendations: Operations, Grants, and Capital Improvements
4. Midwestern Higher Education Compact 2016
5. Illinois Student Assistance Commission
6. National Center for Education Statistics

2017 Race for Results Report: Illinois Children of Color Continue to Face Barriers to Success

Written by Anna Rowan

Illinois’ success as a state is directly tied to the well-being of every one of its children. Yet, too many Illinois young people, especially children of color and children living in immigrant families, still face barriers that limit their opportunities for success, according to the 2017 Race for Results report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Race for Results report examines national and state data on key education, health and economic milestones by racial and ethnic groups. The report’s index uses a composite score of these milestones on a scale of one (lowest) to 1,000 (highest) to make comparisons. The index shows significant disparities among African-American (327) and Latino children (475) compared to Asian and Pacific Islander (844) and white children (766) in Illinois.

In comparison to other states, the index scores for White and Asian and Pacific Islander children in Illinois ranked in the top 10 nationally for their respective groups. The index score for Latino children in Illinois ranked 15th nationally, ahead of some states with similar demographics to Illinois, like New York, but behind others such as Florida and New Jersey. The Illinois index score for African-American children ranked in the bottom group (34th in the nation), behind New Jersey, New York, and Florida but ahead of other midwestern states like Ohio and Michigan.


Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation

The data clearly show that our public policies must do more to reduce inequities among groups:

  • African-American children in Illinois face the most significant barriers to success and are more likely to live in lower income families. They are also the least likely to live in a low-poverty area, with only 36 percent living in low-poverty areas, compared to 91 percent of white children. African-American young adults are also the least likely to be in school or working.
  • Hispanic children also struggle with poverty and are the least likely to live with a householder who has at least a high school degree. Additionally, early childhood education enrollment rates for Hispanic children ages 3-5 (56 percent) lag behind those of African-American (66 percent), Asian (67 percent), and white (67 percent) children.
  • White students in Illinois perform at about the national average for their demographic group in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math. Large achievement gaps between groups mirror those at the national level.

The report also provides a glimpse into the well-being of children in immigrant families, who face the additional stress and trauma of the fear of separation from their parents due to detention or deportation:

  • One in four children in Illinois lives in an immigrant family. Hispanic children make up more than half of this group.
  • Although children in immigrant families are more likely to live in poverty, they and their families are also working hard toward a better life. For example, parents of children in immigrant families are more likely to have regular, full-time employment. And foreign-born young adults are as likely as U.S.-born young adults to be in school or working.

In addition to advocating for policies and investments that connect all children to opportunities, the report makes several recommendations specific to children in immigrant families:

  • Keep families together and in their communities.
  • Help children in immigrant families meet key developmental milestones.
  • Increase economic opportunity for immigrant parents.

The 2017 Race for Results report can be viewed at www.aecf.org/raceforresults/.





Racial Disparities Persist in Juvenile Detention Admissions

While the total number of Illinois juveniles placed in detention facilities has declined over the years, racial inequalities persist in terms of those placed in such facilities. The state must continue to move forward with critical reforms, needed to ensure that all juveniles – regardless of race – are given an equal opportunity to lead successful lives.

Enlarge to full screen for interactive chart on rates/1,000 for Black and White Youth:

Enlarge to full screen for interactive chart on rates/1,000 for Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Youth:

Read the full report, Addressing Persistent Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Juvenile Justice Detention in Illinois, from Voices for Illinois Children:

Download (PDF, 694KB)


Reforming Education Funding

Written by John Gordon

After missing the first two installments of state payments to local school districts, the Illinois General Assembly has approved a new education funding mechanism in legislation that also includes a tax credit for scholarship donations, some school mandate relief, and several other measures.

Senate approval on Tuesday (with a vote of 38-13-4) followed a dramatic Monday evening vote (73-34-3) by the Illinois House on Senate Bill 1947. The House vote came after a failed first vote on the bill and a failed attempt to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1. The bill still needs the Governor’s signature and he has pledged to sign it.

Once signed, schools will begin to receive the approximately $6.7 billion in state funding that is currently on hold. Senate Bill 1947 contains much of the same language of Senate Bill 1. A new evidence-based formula for school funding incorporates 27 elements considered essential to high-performing schools, such as reduced classroom sizes, updated technology and computers, advanced teacher training, and increased support for English-learning students. By using the availability and cost of these elements, the formula establishes a unique adequacy target for each school district. Those that are determined to be the furthest from their adequacy targets will receive the largest share of the new dollars appropriated for education. The bill also contains a hold-harmless provision that ensure no school district sees a decrease in the funding they received in the 2016-2017 school year. Chicago Public Schools receives pension assistance from SB 1947, as the state will pick up CPS’ normal pension costs (approximately $221 million) under the bill.

SB 1947 also includes a new measure providing $75 million in tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to scholarship organizations that provide financial assistance to low and middle-income families who send their children to private school or an out-of-district public schools. Students whose guardians earn an income of up to 300% of the poverty level will be eligible to receive these scholarships. The tax credit is worth 75% of the amount donated and is capped at $1 million per donor for a given year. An independent organization will be tasked to assess the students who receive these scholarships in comparison to similar students in public schools to determine if the private institutions are effectively instructing these students. Any approved scholarship organization must prove that it is spending no less than 95% of its contributions to provide scholarships to eligible students. This program is set to expire in five years unless it is reapproved by the legislature and the Governor.

Senate Bill 1947 also includes measures regarding property taxes. It allows Chicago Public Schools to go beyond its current legal cap on its levy for teacher’s pensions. The current rate is 0.383 on taxable property within the district. The bill allows CPS to extend that rate up to 0.567 if it so chooses. The bill would also allow for certain school districts to lower their property taxes via ballot initiative. If a school district is at 110% of its adequacy target, then voters in the district may put an initiative on the ballot that lowers the school districts property tax levy by up to 10%, granted that at least 10% of registered voters within the district sign a petition asking to do so.

The bill also:

  • Provides a certain amount of mandate relief for school districts. Districts may choose to lower the physical education requirement from five days per week to three days per week if they so choose, while also allowing for greater flexibility for students who take part in athletic extracurricular activities. School districts may also choose to contract out driver’s education.
  • Allows for the expediting of requirement waivers. Waivers that need approval of the General Assembly will be sent to the four legislative leaders for consideration. If at least three of the four leaders want further consideration of a waiver request, then the request is sent to the full legislative body. If less than 3 of the leaders send a request of further consideration, then the State Board of Education may decide to accept, modify, or reject the request without action from the General Assembly.

Once signed, the legislation is effective immediately. It is important to remember that this formula is for distributing new state dollars and its predicated on increasing state education spending by at least $350 million per year for the next ten years. Some education advocates say that this amount may not be enough to properly fix the education funding system in Illinois, even with these latest improvements. It will be vital for the General Assembly to continue to increase education spending by the state, or the new funding model may fall short of its goal of increasing the percentage of education funding that is taken up by the state and promoting education equity and adequacy across Illinois.