ILLINOIS, USA — Two days before early voting began in Illinois, incumbent Governor J.B. Pritzker launched a new line of attack against his Republican challenger Darren Bailey in a 30-second television ad.
"Did you know Darren Bailey runs a school?" the narrator asks. "And they use quite the curriculum."
The ad goes on to highlight excerpts published by Bob Jones University Press, the same publisher that supplies Bailey's school with textbooks.
The year before he ran for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, Bailey and his wife Cindy launched a fundamentalist Christian school based in Louisville, Illinois, in 2016. In that same year, Bob Jones University Press was once again in the process of rewriting its history books to soften or remove some of the more dubious or offensive claims found in its pages. The BJU Press altered its textbooks on several occasions in recent years to remove racially charged content that sometimes spoke about slave owners or the Ku Klux Klan in forgiving terms.
BJU publishers shipped history books to Christian classrooms in the early 1990s that claimed, "The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well." That line was published in BJU's second edition textbooks long before Bailey founded Full Armor Christian Academy in 2016.
In its third edition, Bob Jones University Press authors highlighted the Ku Klux Klan's affinity with strict Christian morals, writing in 2001 that the KKK "tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians."
Bailey has at times described himself as a force that fights against what he sees as moral decline and "moral rot" in state government.
5 On Your Side obtained hard copies of several of the textbooks on the shelves at Full Armor Academy. While the racially charged language is more subtle than previous editions, it is still present.
For example, textbooks on the shelves at Bailey's school now teach students that "God regulated but did not forbid slavery." Teachers are instructed to ask students to compare outlawing abortion to ending slavery, and to ask students to explain the strengths of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the part of the U.S. Constitution that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person.
When Bailey launched his campaign for governor in 2021, he stepped down from his post running the private school and handed those duties to his daughter and son-in-law. His campaign said they would answer questions about this curriculum at a later date.
"I think you can see that Darren Bailey would be bad for schools in the state of Illinois," Pritzker said during a campaign stop in East St. Louis. "Darren Bailey wants to put forward things that I think are ancient ideas, racist ideas. These are ideas that are bad for women, bad for people of color. He's living in another century."
Bailey's interest in private education goes beyond the two schools his family now operates. He has centered education policy in his campaign speeches and drafted legislation in Springfield to divert public education funds to private schools or home schools.
During the deadliest stretch of the pandemic, Bailey filed a measure in the Illinois Senate that would have allowed parents to defund public schools that provided remote or hybrid learning options and spend those funds in the form of "vouchers" at home schools or other private schools. Bailey never managed to move the bill to a committee for debate and never enlisted any co-sponsors for it.
In his primary contest, Bailey pledged to "ban Critical Race Theory" in classrooms. During a recent campaign stop in Belleville, he repeated his calls to modify curriculum in public school classrooms, and told one voter he would use executive power to write culturally responsive teaching standards "out of the rules."
"We will restore parental rights by removing extreme policies from our classrooms and returning power to the parents for our schools," he said.
"When I'm governor, we will ensure parents and children have choices. And friends, that means educational vouchers."
Illinois currently allows some limited forms of school choice through a private school tax credit scholarship program. The state allows tax discounts for private donors. Their donations fund a scholarship program that helps children in poverty attend private schools at no cost. While Pritzker has at times threatened to restrict or end the program, he has ultimately left it in place throughout his first term in office.
Pritzker and Bailey's records in office rarely aligned on education policy.
Pritzker signed budgets that boosted K-12 school funding each year. Bailey voted against them.
Pritzker expanded Black history requirements in public schools, adding a Juneteenth holiday to the school calendar. Bailey did not vote for it, and he voted against a measure to ban discrimination against common Black hairstyles in Illinois classrooms.
Pritzker enacted a law requiring public schools to teach about the significant contributions of LGBT people in history. Bailey opposed it.
Bailey did, however, vote to support new mandates for schools to teach Asian-American history in Illinois classrooms.
The two candidates are scheduled to appear in their first debate on Friday night at Illinois State University.
The election is Nov. 8.