(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Illinois House voted down vouchers yesterday after a furious lobbying effort by teacher unions. The Chicago Tribune relates dramatic details of the debate:
“Think back to why you ran for office,” said sponsoring Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Chicago. “Was it for a pension? I doubt it. Was it to protect the leadership of a union? I doubt that. Actually in all cases, I believe each and every one of us here got involved to try and make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.”
Joyce could muster only 48 of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill that would have allowed students to get vouchers worth about $3,700 to switch to private or parochial schools beginning in fall 2011.
Joyce said the bill would have passed if it had not faced the union opposition. The bill got support from 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats, fewer votes than Joyce had expected from his fellow Democrats.
Fighting back tears during the lengthy debate, Rep. Suzanne Bassi, R-Palatine, called on fellow lawmakers to “search your souls” to support the measure because “we have failed these kids in the inner-city schools.”
“I’m pleading with you,” said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who represents an area with four public schools where students would have been eligible for vouchers. “I’m begging you. Help me help kids in my district.”
Illinois choice advocates should keep their heads up: your day will come. A quick look at Illinois NAEP scores reveals abysmal performance for African Americans, Hispanics, children with disabilities, free and reduced lunch eligible kids and ELL students. Illinois kids need a great deal of K-12 reform with expanded parental choice contributing to an overall improvement strategy.
Sun Tzu wrote that a victorious general wins and then seeks battle, while a defeated army seeks battle and then seeks victory. Senator Meeks has seized the moral high ground. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t win every battle, but he ultimately won his war because he held this same sort of moral high ground. The teacher union thugs in Illinois want to keep disadvantaged children in failing schools because they put the state funding in their pockets. Illinois reform advocates need to not only give these children options to go elsewhere, but they need to force public school improvement in every possible way.
If Senator Meeks and his allies will keep a relentless focus on justice and literacy, there will be no question of whether they will win, only one of when their victory will finally occur.