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Voucher Plan To Aid Catholic Schools Blasted By Aldermen, State Rep.

By Heather Cherone | August 25, 2017 2:49pm | Updated on August 28, 2017 8:22am
 CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd); state Rep. Will Guzzardi; Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th);and Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) who blasted a voucherlike program.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd); state Rep. Will Guzzardi; Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th);and Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) who blasted a voucherlike program.
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CHICAGO — A second City Council caucus Friday said it would oppose a school-funding bill set for a vote in Springfield next week that offers Chicago Public Schools about $300 million — but includes a voucherlike program that critics said could "decimate public schools."

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chairman of the Council's Progressive Caucus, said state lawmakers should head back to the table. The Latino Caucus said Wednesday it opposed the voucherlike program.

"No self-respecting Democrat should accept this brazen Rauner-Trump-DeVos tactic to decimate public schools, rob our children's classrooms of resources and weaken teachers unions," Waguespack said.

The agreement, scheduled to be voted on Monday, would give the Chicago Public Schools everything — "and more" — it was set to get under a measure vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who called it a bailout of Chicago's mismanaged schools.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it a "fair shake" for Chicago children.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she favored a proposal to give credits to taxpayers who donate to a fund that covers private school tuition. While the details of the program included in the school funding bill have not been released, those who helped craft the measure said it was similar.

Emanuel should instead "at least temporarily plug the widening CPS funding gap" with tax increment financing funds earmarked for redevelopment, Waguespack said.

The agreement in principle includes a measure backed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Blase Cupich designed to help families pay for private school tuition by offering a $75 million tuition tax credit program that would offer scholarships for private or parochial schools — or to pay the cost to send their sons or daughters to a public school outside their home school district, officials said.

It was unclear whether the measure would offer a full tax credit for the entire cost of tuition.

In an email to Emanuel, Cupich said he was convinced such a program "would be an enormous boost to the Chicago schools and the thousands of parents who use our [Catholic] schools."

Enrollment at Chicago's Catholic schools has been dropping for several years, leading to closing of several — including St. Benedict High School in North Center — and the merger of four Far Northwest Side Catholic schools into Pope Francis Global Academy.

The voucherlike proposal has been roundly condemned by parent-led group Raise Your Hand and the Chicago Teachers Union as "a double-whammy aimed at the heart of public education."

The City Council's 11-member Latino Caucus said Wednesday that vouchers or tax credits would accelerate the number of of students leaving Chicago Public Schools.

"Chicago Public Schools could not recover from a voucher program that would siphon at least $100 million out of a system that seems to be constantly struggling," said caucus chairman  36th Ward Ald. Gilbert Villegas.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, who represents the 39th District in the Illinois House, said he would not vote for the compromise measure when it is called for a vote, which is expected to happen Monday.

On Twitter, Guzzardi said there was "good stuff" in the agreement reached Friday, but added that the voucher-ike program that would offer a tax break in return for donations to private scholarship programs "an insidious right-wing assault" on public education.

"Giving rich people a tax loophole for driving students out of public schools and into private schools goes against many of my core beliefs," Guzzardi said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) — who is running for governor — called the voucherlike proposal "dead wrong" in a Tweet.

"Taxpayer $$s should be distributed equitably to public schools," Pawar wrote.

Along with Pawar, gubernatorial candidates state Sen. Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy have also blasted the program. Billionaire investor and entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker had not weighed in on the proposal as of Friday afternoon.

Although Rauner lauded the agreement in a statement Thursday afternoon, calling it historic, on Friday during a speech in Marion County he said the agreement includes "money that shouldn’t go to Chicago" and he would work to reverse that part of the measure.