Our perspective: Parents, schools scrambling without low-income scholarships

Our perspective: Parents, schools scrambling without low-income scholarships

State lawmakers failed to save the Invest in Kids program allowing nearly 10,000 low-income students to attend a school that better fit their needs. Now some of those schools are being forced to close and families are left with poor options.

Teachers unions and Democratic state lawmakers took no mercy on low-income families who have benefitted from tax credit scholarships through Illinois’ Invest in Kids program, letting it expire at the end of 2023.

Now, parents and schools are feeling the pressure. From the Chicago Tribune:

“When Cristina Moreno enrolled her daughter, Camila, in kindergarten last year at St. Frances of Rome in Cicero, she felt certain the school would provide a well-rounded education and social environment for years to come. Moreno, a single mother of two from Cicero, sends Camila to St. Frances with support from the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, which she called a ‘great help’ financially.

“In the fall, the expiration of the Invest in Kids program left Moreno scrambling to search for other scholarships and financial aid options to ensure that Camila, 7, and her son, Carmelo, 5, could attend St. Frances of Rome next year.”

  • Four private schools have already said they’re closing. Without support from the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program, four schools in Illinois will permanently close at the end of this school year. That means fewer options for families of all income levels. St. Frances of Rome, Moreno’s kids’ school, is one of the schools set to close at the end of the school year.
  • Black, Hispanic families most affected. Over half of the low-income students who received scholarships from program facilitator Empower Illinois are Black or Hispanic. Scholarship recipients are divided into five regions across the state. Empower grants the most scholarships to Region 1, which encompasses Cook County.
  • Scholarships went to families earning less than $50,000 per year. Two-thirds of families had a family income of less than 185% of the federal poverty level, or $49,025 for a family of four.
  • Here’s how it worked: The Invest in Kids Act encouraged private donors to fund scholarships for low-income children so they could choose a private school when the public system was not meeting their needs. Individuals and businesses who contributed to a scholarship granting organization got an income tax credit equal to 75% of their donation. The state limited the program to $75 million per year and limited tax credits to $1 million per taxpayer per year. This program cost taxpayers nothing, as it was funded by private donors.
  • What now? There’s still an effort to renew Invest in Kids. State Rep. Tim Ozinga recently filed an extension bill. All hope is not lost, though in the short term families will still be left rushing to figure out school plans for the coming year.
  • The expert take: “What we’re seeing today shows the inequity of ending this scholarship program. The decision to end Invest in Kids disproportionately harms low-income families. The families scrambling for options are those who can’t afford a private school’s tuition, and many may be zoned to a poor performing neighborhood school or their zoned school can’t serve their child’s needs. The end to Invest in Kids means additional stress on already struggling families and fewer options to families who are accustomed to being unable to provide the same opportunities which wealthier families can provide to their own children.

“As for schools, it is unfortunate to see schools potentially having to close their doors thanks to the end of Invest in Kids. We believe a market for educational options is ideal, so this just further shrinks the supply of private schooling options which threatens to drive up costs for private schools and drive out those families already teetering on the cusp of affordability.” – Hannah Schmid, Illinois Policy Institute policy analyst

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