CTU allies push to end school choice program for low-income Illinois students

CTU allies push to end school choice program for low-income Illinois students

A government union-backed group is pushing parents to ask state lawmakers to kill tax credit scholarships serving the state’s most vulnerable students. Other parents are trying to make the program permanent. Here’s why opponents need to fail.

A group with government union ties is calling for the elimination of a program that lets low-income students attend private school through donations.

Illinois Families for Public Schools is urging parents to call lawmakers and allow the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship program to expire, ending scholarships that have helped at least 37,000 students in Illinois.

But hundreds of parents with the opposite perspective recently traveled to Springfield to tell lawmakers to make the tax credit scholarship program permanent. They have shared how their children struggled in public school, but have thrived in private schools they could not have afforded without the program.

What is Invest in Kids?

The Invest in Kids Act encourages donors to fund scholarships for low-income children so they can attend the school of their choice. Donors who contribute to a scholarship-granting organization get an income tax credit equal to 75% of their donation. For example, a $100 donation would result in a $75 income tax credit. The state limits the program to $75 million per year.

Who qualifies?

Students must come from a household with an income below 400% of the federal poverty level. The program expands options for families who would send their child to a private school but can’t afford the tuition.

Maria Rodriguez didn’t think she had a choice of where to send her kids until she learned about tax credit scholarships.

“It’s a huge help for many families like us, that don’t earn a lot, but we want to help our kids to get a head start, to get an education better than what we had,” she said.

Empower Illinois, the state’s largest scholarship-granting organization, has awarded 37,000 scholarships worth $280 million since the program started in 2018. It reports the average family applying for a scholarship has a household income of $43,000.

When does Invest in Kids expire?

 The sunset date for Invest in Kids is Jan. 1, 2024. Families who have benefited from the scholarships are asking lawmakers to make the program permanent to keep their kids in the schools that offer the best fit for them.

Teachers unions have long opposed giving parents options, seeing school choice as a challenge to their power. They are telling lawmakers to let the scholarships expire, claiming the program takes away funds from public schools by reducing tax revenue.

Does it take away money from public schools?

Public schools are funded by property taxes and payments from the state and federal government. Invest in Kids is funded through donations, with only a tiny fraction of potential revenue lost to the income tax credits.

The $75 million in income tax credits from Invest in Kids represents roughly 0.29% of the state’s $26 billion in total income tax revenue. The program is minuscule compared to the budget but is life-changing for families.

The scholarships actually help public schools by reducing overcrowding as parents continue paying property taxes. Each scholarship student saved government $3,000 by removing the need to educate a student for whom tax revenue was still being provided, according to a study that looked at the 2013-2014 school year.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently changed his stance and now supports the program, saying more students in need should have access to tax credit scholarships.

It makes sense considering Pritzker himself attended private school as well as his children. Families who can’t afford tuition should have the same opportunities to choose the right school for their children

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