Illinois boosts scholarships for private colleges, but not for low-income kids

Illinois boosts scholarships for private colleges, but not for low-income kids

The Illinois General Assembly approved $100 million in grants so students can choose a private or public university. But when it comes to giving that private or public choice to low-income students, there soon may be no choice at all.

Illinois lawmakers put $100 million in the new budget so students could choose the private or public college that best fit their needs, but failed to extend that choice for low-income students trying to prepare for college.

The Monetary Award Program helps Illinoisans in financial need pay for tuition at an approved Illinois college of their choice, regardless of whether it is a state school or private institution.

The Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program provides a choice for families in need who otherwise couldn’t afford to pick a private elementary or high school. Lawmakers missed their chance to extend the program during the spring session, so private-school scholarships for 9,000 disadvantaged students are set to expire Dec. 31.

MAP grants are entirely funded by the state. Invest in Kids receives funding from donors who are partially reimbursed with income tax credits. The state can’t give out more than $75 million in tax credits, and averages significantly less than that each year.

For many Chicago Public Schools families, private education is their best chance at college. Just 14% of 3rd through 8th grade students from low-income families met proficiency standards in reading and 9% in math in 2022 within CPS.

Roni Facen knows how much a scholarship to private school matters. She received help, and now is principal of her alma mater, St. Francis de Sales High on Chicago’s South Side, where all the students receive help.

“When you see my babies and you see what they’re achieving and you see 100% of them matriculating into college and 100% of them, you know, making these very big strides to break the generational poverty that they were born into,” Facen said.

Public opinion is behind the program: 59% of Illinoisans polled supported Invest in Kids. Another poll found 71% of Black voters and 81% of Hispanic voters backed it.

There’s still hope: Invest in Kids could potentially be saved and extended when lawmakers return to Springfield for the October veto session. They should listen to all the parents who went to Springfield to lobby them, to the opinion polls and to Facen. They should offer the same choice to low-income children that Illinois’ governor and the leaders of the Illinois Senate and House gave their own children.

Invest in Kids, and they invest in the constituents who most need it to advance to college and advance Illinois’ future.

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