Scholarships for low-income students survive Pritzker’s threat, gain a year

Scholarships for low-income students survive Pritzker’s threat, gain a year

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wanted to gut the Invest in Kids program for low-income students. Lawmakers opposed that, adding a year to the program.

An effort by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to label low-income students as “tax loopholes” failed, and Illinois state lawmakers were able to add another year to a tax credit scholarship program that offers kids educations that best fit their needs.

Pritzker wanted to cut the Invest in Kids program by $14 million. He proposed reducing the tax credit, cutting what private school donors receive from 75 cents on the dollar to 40 cents.

State lawmakers instead preserved the tax credit in the fiscal year 2022 budget. It originally was to expire in 2022, but lawmakers extended it through 2023.

There appears to be potential to make the tax credit permanent. Momentum was building for House Bill 4076 and it drew 46 sponsors. Another 10 also put their names on the bill but them withdrew them. The legislative session ended with the bill stuck in committee.

But the extra year gives lawmakers more time to make the credit permanent.

While union leaders portray the scholarships as taking from public schools, they actually reduce overcrowding as parents continue paying property taxes. They also saved taxpayers $3,000 per scholarship student in a study that looked at the 2013-2014 school year.

The program gives low-income students alternatives to failing schools or to school environments that don’t meet their needs. The average scholarship recipient’s family income is $38,000, and 49% are Black or Hispanic, according to Empower Illinois.

Nicole Sniff understands the power of the program. A public school teacher kept pushing her to medicate her son Drake to deal with his learning problems, repeatedly leaving her in tears. The scholarship program allows her to keep her six children in private schools that meet their diverse learning needs.

“[Our private school’s] reading specialist helped diagnose both of my middle sons with learning disabilities, and we’re getting them the resources they need,” said Sniff, of Normal, Illinois. “And it has been such a gift to be there. [Our son] Drake is 15 now and in his freshman year of high school. He is excelling in school despite his learning disabilities. The tax credit scholarship made that possible.”

Lawmakers kept their promise to public school students when they passed a state budget with $350 million more for the state’s K-12 Evidence Based Funding formula, which Pritzker had left out of his proposed budget in February.

Lawmakers bought time by extending the Invest in Kids program by a year, but making it permanent would be a nice complement to their public school investment.

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