School Choice Week a reminder why Illinois families love the Invest in Kids Act
Thousands of parents, educators and organizations across the country renewed calls this week to expand school choice and give more options for students’ educations. But in Illinois, the state’s only school choice program is nearing its end.
National School Choice Week kicked off Jan. 22 with thousands of schools and organizations across the country renewing calls to give more options for students’ educations.
Illinois faces the prospect of fewer options for its low-income students unless state lawmakers act this year.
The week was started in 2011 with the purpose of informing and empowering parents to discover the best K-12 education options for their kids. With over 3 million children in Illinois, that means the opportunity to enroll in the schools that best serve their needs, even if it’s outside their district.
Today, Illinois offers fairly flexible open enrollment options for students to attend the traditional public schools within their school district. But persistent resistance to school choice initiatives, such as renewing the state’s Invest in Kids tax scholarship program, will soon mean fewer choices for more low-income students.
Martha Reynoso relied on the grants to send her children to private school after close calls with local gang violence. She said the alternative gave her kids a safe place to study without fear.
“I wanted my kids to go to a school as far away as possible from the neighborhood violence and the dangers that usually exist in the public schools,” Reynoso said. “Cristo Rey is a smaller school, so everyone knows everyone, and the teachers pay more attention to the students.
“And the students can focus more on their studies in that environment because they don’t have to worry about other things,” she said.
The Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship program has awarded more than 37,000 grants to low-income families worth $280 million since it started in 2018. The grants are funded by donations, with donors receiving a state income tax credit equal to 75% of their contribution.
“Thankfully we applied and received the tax credit scholarships which covered full tuition for both of our youngest. If it weren’t for the scholarships, I’m not sure what we would have done,” Reynoso said.
“We want our kids to have access to quality education but for one reason or another some families don’t have the opportunity or financials to do so. These scholarships make a huge difference,” she said.
Illinois lawmakers failed to renew the Invest in Kids scholarship during the lame duck session in January. Now it is up to the new, 103rd Illinois General Assembly to save the school choice program set to expire Dec. 31, 2023.
The state’s vulnerable, low-income students deserve a chance to get the same academic lift that wealthier students enjoy, but lawmakers need to act because the legislative calendar has even less time left on it than the wall calendar.