Quinn Defends Public Education, Though He's A Product of Private Schools

Sep 15, 2014

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

Who Illinois voters choose to be their next governor could make a big difference in how Illinois funds schools, and even where students can go to get an education.

Quinn's agenda seems to leave things basically as-is; taxpayer dollars flow to public schools:

"I believe that the public system of education is the best way to go," Quinn told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board last week.

Not that he has much personal experience in the system.

At that endorsement session, Quinn listed the private schools he's attended: "I went to Catholic school, for grammar school, high school; I went to Georgetown."

It prompted one of the editorial board members to ask,"so why shouldn't other parents, in low-income neighborhoods, have the same opportunity that you had?"

"Well my parents made a decision, they paid their property taxes and their taxes to the state of Illinois, they made an independent decision to send me and my two brothers," Quinn responded.

He was cut off by his Republican opponent, venture capitalist Rauner, who said, "some families can't afford to do that."

Rauner's education platform puts heavy emphasis on school choice. He says he doesn't like the word "voucher," but says he does support using taxpayer money to send kids to private schools.

"We should empower parents to choose their schools, and if they're in failing schools, have alternatives so they can choose better schools that fit their children. Programs to help low income families who are struggling and can't afford to choose a different school, to help them," he said.

Rauner's plan calls for lifting Illinois' cap on the number of charter schools, giving companies and individuals a tax credit if they donate to organizations that give low-income students scholarships to attend private school, and for creating "education savings accounts." Eligible families (parents of disabled children, or kids who go to "failing" schools) could money that would otherwise have been spent on the student at a public school, and instead use it on everything from private school tuition to tutoring.

Diverting money from public schools could be especially controversial in the Chicago suburbs, where Rauner will need to do well in November if he's to be the first Republican to win the governor's office since 2002.

Rauner and his wife, Diana Rauner, are well-known education advocates; Rauner says he has put "tens of millions" of his personal money toward the cause, most notably with the Noble charter school network, which has a school named after him.

Quinn has won the support of Illinois' influential teachers' unions -- which generally see school choice as a threat to their members. A teachers' union leader called Rauner's plans "red herrings" of reform -- especially as Rauner has no way to fund them.  Rauner has proposed putting a sales tax on certain services, but that would not makeup the revenue Illinois would lose if the income tax falls, as he has promised; Quinn has called for a permanent extension of the 2011 tax hike, which he says would allow Illinois to invest in education.