School parents invited to Springfield as part of ‘Save My Scholarship’ campaign
Some things are so important that it takes more than a line item on a budget to understand their worth. Tuition tax credit scholarships for students in nonpublic schools are one of those things.
As Gov. J.B. Pritzker prepares his first state budget, concern is growing that this program will be endangered due to a proposal to reduce the cap for donations from $100 million to $50 million per year. If that happens, donors may shy away from the program entirely, according to Juan Rangel, strategy director for Empower Illinois.
Empower Illinois is a statewide scholarship granting organization (SGO) that processes donations and scholarship awards for students in nonpublic schools. That includes Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria.
Working with the Catholic Conference of Illinois, Empower Illinois has started a series of Legislative Advocacy Days to bring parents whose children are benefiting from tax credit scholarships to Springfield to visit with their legislators at the State Capitol. Called the Save My Scholarship campaign, the goal is to maintain a consistent presence throughout the May budget process that will help the lawmakers see the human face of the program.
“Oftentimes legislators, and even advocates, get lost on numbers and statistics. I think this is an opportunity for legislators to connect directly with the people who are affected by this program,” Rangel told The Catholic Post in a telephone interview from Chicago.
If the governor intends to reduce or eliminate a program, legislators ought to know that this has an effect on real people, not just the budget, he said.
TELLING THEIR STORY
Signed into law on Aug. 31, 2017, the Invest in Kids Act was authorized for five years. The tax credit scholarship program allows individuals and corporations to make a donation to SGOs like Empower Illinois and receive a 75 percent credit on that amount when filing their state tax return.
“Parents are not necessarily the experts behind this policy, but they are experts in knowing what’s best for their kids.” — Juan Rangel
Individuals may designate the school that will benefit from their gift.
Rangel said parents aren’t expected to discuss details like this with their state representatives and senators, however.
“Parents are not necessarily the experts behind this policy, but they are experts in knowing what’s best for their kids and that’s the story we would expect them to have,” he explained.
“Parents are being encouraged to say that they need this program, that it’s providing them the option to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child,” said Jerry Sanderson, associate superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Peoria. “They’re also sharing with legislators how their children are benefiting.”
PRESENCE FROM DIOCESE BEGINS
Those signed up for the Legislative Advocacy Days are invited to come to the office of the Catholic Conference of Illinois in Springfield where Empower Illinois officials provide a brief training session on what to say and do and what not to do. Then they are taken to the State Capitol to visit their representatives.
St. Mark School in Peoria was one of the first schools from the Diocese of Peoria to have a presence at the State Capitol. Dr. Noreen Dillon, principal, and Maria Carroll, a school parent, made good use of the day, visiting Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria), Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) and Rep. Mike Unes (R-Pekin), and connecting briefly with Rep. Dan Brady (R-Normal).
“They were all very gracious in talking to us,” Dillon said.
“It allowed us an opportunity to talk to our local representatives, to explain to them exactly how this is affecting families that attend our schools or who attend the different schools in our community,” she told The Post. “It gives families an opportunity to look at some school choices.”
At St. Mark, enough donations were made through the Invest in Kids Act to give tax credit scholarships to 21 students for the 2018-19 school year. Applications were submitted for more than 80 students.
In January, applications were filed with Empower Illinois for 80 students again. Scholarship recipients for the 2019-20 school year won’t be announced until there is funding, Dillon said.
THE EFFORT CONTINUES
“We’re fighting the proposed cut. We believe we have strong support in the legislature,” said Zachary Wichmann, director of government relations for the Catholic Conference of Illinois.
“They should let their legislators know it’s a good program and we don’t want it to go away.” — Zachary Wichmann
Nonpublic schools around the state are doing their part by continuing to send representatives to Springfield. Joining them in the coming days will be families from Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria, St. Mary School in Pontiac, Seton Catholic School in Moline, St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights, Peoria Notre Dame High School, St. Mary School in Bloomington, Trinity Catholic Academy in LaSalle, Blessed Sacrament School in Morton, Holy Family School in Peoria, Schlarman Academy in Danville, St. Matthew School in Champaign, and St. Jude School in Peoria.
Wichmann said it is also important to continue to voice support for tax credit scholarships in individual meetings, emails and phone calls with lawmakers.
“They should let their legislators know it’s a good program and we don’t want it to go away,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: People who are interested in participating in the Legislative Advocacy Days can get more information by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization is also encouraging people to post on social media with #SaveMyScholarship. To learn more about the campaign, visit empowerillinois.org/savemyscholarship.