Lawmakers scrap scholarship program for 9,000 working class families in new budget

Lawmakers scrap scholarship program for 9,000 working class families in new budget

The Illinois General Assembly is poised to pass a budget without extending the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, which allows 9,000 low-income students to attend a school of their choice. The program expires Dec. 31.

The governor and leaders of both chambers in the state legislature chose private schools for their children, but they couldn’t figure out how to include that choice in the state budget for 9,000 low-income students.

Right now, the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program is providing that choice for families that don’t enjoy the same wealth or privilege as the state’s leaders. It is set to expire Dec. 31.

Roni Facen, principal and alumna of St. Francis de Sales High School on Chicago’s East Side, will see her students suffer without tax credit scholarships. The Catholic school relies entirely on scholarships for its student body.

“100% of our kids are on scholarship. 100% of them. There is not one student in this building that is paying full tuition,” Facen said. “The per capita income of our families on the South Side is about $20,000 a year.”

She said the scholarships pay off.

“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.”

Invest in Kids is far from a big-ticket budget item: The program is capped at $75 million in income tax credits for scholarship donors, but at $330 million in donations since 2017 has cost significantly less than the maximum. For reference, lawmakers included $50 million for a new legislative office building and almost $5,000 each for their own raises in the new budget.

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. Parents repeatedly lobbied lawmakers to extend the program.

There may be big support from those who stand to benefit from the choice scholarships provide, but the Chicago Teachers Union is actively working to kill it and low-income families’ only alternative to CTU’s brand of education: Just 14% of 3rd through 8th grade students from low-income families met proficiency standards in reading and 9% in math in 2022 within Chicago Public Schools.

CTU claims Invest in Kids undermines funding for public schools. But a study from a decade ago found the opposite: Each scholarship student saved government up to $3,000 by removing the need to educate a student for whom tax revenue was still being provided. And Illinois has added $1.6 billion in public school funding since Invest in Kids started.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker attended private school and made that choice for his children. House Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon also chose private schools for their kids. Families who can’t afford tuition should have the same opportunities to choose the right school for their children.

Facen’s only hope, and the hope of the many families impacted by this inaction, is that the Invest in Kids program could potentially be resurrected in the fall legislative veto session.

Pritzker has said he now backs the program. Words need to become action before the end of the year, or 9,000 low-income students will be worst off for the failure.

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