How to expand success of Illinois’ tax credit scholarships
The Invest in Kids scholarship tax credit program helps low-income families pay for private schools. Making the program permanent and expanding it would help more students attend schools that best fit their needs.
The Invest in Kids Act of 2017 provides low-income Illinois families scholarship opportunities for their children so they can attend schools that are best suited for their individual needs. Scholarship money comes from businesses and individuals who donate to scholarship-granting organizations. Donors receive a tax credit of 75 cents for every dollar donated, up to $1 million.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 7,600 students received a scholarship through the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program last school year.
Families such as the Clodfelters are one of the many success stories that come from the program. Bose Clodfelter, mother of two, is a physical therapist in Joliet, Illinois. Her son, Jordan, had issues with bullying at his public school.
“Jordan was in public school for four years, and it wasn’t really a good experience for him. There was a lot of bullying going on and a lot of overcrowding in the classroom. Because of the larger-sized classroom, he wasn’t given a lot of attention, and he didn’t excel really well,” Clodfelter said.
But she saw an all-around improvement once Jordan enrolled at St. Paul the Apostle in Joliet, thanks to a tax credit scholarship.
“And immediately we saw the change in my son: his grades, his personality, just everything improved.”
According to an April 2021 poll, 61% of voters support Invest in Kids. In the same month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed scaling back the program by $14 million, reducing the tax credit from 75 cents on the dollar to 40 cents. Lawmakers instead kept the program and extended it to Dec. 31, 2023.
One way to expand the number of families helped is by making the Invest in Kids program permanent. The clock is ticking on the program as currently structured.
“It’s very important that politicians allow this tax credit to continue so my family can have the opportunity to be a part of a school system where our children and my family as a unit thrives,” Clodfelter said.
A common misconception is that the scholarship money is being diverted from public schools. The money for the program does not come out of Illinois’ education budget. Invest in Kids’ money comes exclusively from donors.
The program doesn’t apply to pre-school, which is another opportunity for the program to expand. Schools also need greater flexibility to offer more partial scholarships.
Also, business donors should be allowed to designate specific schools they want to help, as individual donors are already able to do.
Empower Illinois, the largest organization that grants the scholarships, reported in May 2021 that 26,000 kids are on the waitlist for Invest in Kids scholarships, and that number could be even higher now. Either way, the only way to meet demand is by expanding the program.