Parents push to expand Illinois’ Invest in Kids school choice program
Illinois state lawmakers are hearing from parents who want to see the Invest in Kids program expanded. Giving families a choice about their schools can boost student achievement.
Parents connected to the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program lobbied to make the program permanent when state lawmakers Nov. 15 returned to Springfield.
Invest in Kids grants donors who contribute to a scholarship-granting organization a income tax credit equal to 75% of their donation. For example, a $100 donation would result in a $75 income tax credit.
Empower Illinois, the state’s largest scholarship-granting organization, has awarded 37,000 scholarships since 2018 worth more than $280 million. The program allowed Sheila Passehl to send her son to St. Jude Catholic School in Joliet, Illinois. She saw his studies improve and he became eager to get ready for school in the morning.
“The tax credit scholarship program needs to continue to exist so that we can continue to educate our children the way we, the parents, choose to have our children educated,” Passehl said.
Passehl and her husband didn’t think private school was an option for their son because it was too expensive, but then they received one of the scholarships.
“The scholarship takes the financial stress off of us, and it gives us the opportunity to not have to pick and choose which sports or activities the kids are going to be restricted to,” she said.
Anthony Holter, president of Empower Illinois, said the program is exclusively for kids with high financial need.
“The average household income is $43,000, and these families are receiving scholarships, again, to attend their best fit private schools in every community in the state and every legislative district,” Holter said.
Opponents argue more money for kids to go to private school undermines funding for public schools. Cynthia Riseman Lund from the Illinois Federation of Teachers said the program should expire sooner than the 2024 sunshine date.
“[Teachers’ unions] support elimination of the Invest in Kids program. It is set to sunset … and we will call for the elimination of the program even sooner,” Lund said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a similar call to kill the program when he ran for governor in 2018. But he recently changed his stance and now supports the program, saying more students in need should have access to tax credit scholarships.
Invest in Kids is currently set to expire Jan. 1, 2024.