Tax credit scholarships are climbing; donations are sought through Nov. 30
More than 400 students in Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria have received $1.4 million is tax credit scholarships as part of the Invest in Kids Act for this school year. That number could climb, however, since donations may continue to be made through Nov. 30.
This is a marked improvement over the 2018-2019 school year when 283 students benefited from $1.1 million in awards.
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 donations to a scholarship granting organization and receive a 75 percent credit on that amount when filing their state tax return. Empower Illinois is the scholarship granting organization that processes donations and scholarship awards for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria.
The cap for any one donation is $1.33 million, which would result in a $1 million tax credit. The cap for all donations is $100 million per year. That means up to $75 million in tax credits may be claimed per calendar year.
Individuals may designate the school that will benefit from their gift.
The tax credit scholarship program has been designated as a priority by the Diocesan Education Council’s Committee on Advancement, according to Sister M. Mikela Meidl, FSGM, who chairs the committee.
“This is an opportunity that the state is giving us, some would say almost miraculously, to allow students in private schools to be able to receive these scholarships in a way that’s really unprecedented.” — Sister M. Mikela Meidl, FSGM, chair of the Diocesan Education Council’s Committee on Advancement
“We have a charter for our Diocesan Education Council that really is working toward allowing all children who desire to go to Catholic schools to be able to do that regardless of ability to pay,” said Sister M. Mikela, who is executive vice president at OSF HealthCare. “This is an opportunity that the state is giving us, some would say almost miraculously, to allow students in private schools to be able to receive these scholarships in a way that’s really unprecedented.”
One of the parishes that accepted the challenge in a big way was St. Mary in Bloomington. Of 54 applicants for a tax credit scholarship, donors contributed enough to provide $121,625 in funding for all or part of the tuition for 30 students.
“One of the things that kind of drove it for St. Mary’s is that we made it very clear that being generous to Empower (Illinois) made it a lot easier on the parish in terms of not needing to assess the school as much,” said Father Greg Nelson, pastor. “It helped the stewardship model better in terms of how people could invest their resources in the school.”
Another key aspect of their success was emphasizing that a significant number of students who go to St. Mary School are in need and would benefit directly from the program, he said. There was already a strong tuition assistance program in place, but working with Empower Illinois allowed them to take it to the next level.
“This is a perfect example of if you name the need and you continue to keep that in people’s minds, they follow through on it” and they do it in astounding ways, Father Nelson said.
He credited John Lally, a member of the parish education commission, for stepping up and taking point on the effort to educate parishioners and other donors about how they and the school could benefit by making contributions to Empower Illinois.
“On the donor side, what attracted me was the State of Illinois was giving, basically, grant money for school choice,” said Lally, a product of Catholic education and longtime supporter of Bloomington-area Catholic schools. “We had a rate of about $3 back for every $4 donated. It made the opportunity for someone to basically quadruple their contribution.”
He added that St. Mary has a reputation for responding generously with any need that arises for the school and parish, “so I had some confidence that people would rise to the opportunity and they did.”
Principal Jamie Hartrich said she has seen the joy of families who benefit from the tax credit scholarships awarded by Empower Illinois.
“Paying for Catholic education is a hardship and you really have to make a sacrifice,” she told The Catholic Post. “This allowed a lot of our families who would be borderline staying in Catholic education to not have to worry about it and staying where they want to be. That was huge for a lot of our families.”
“This allowed a lot of our families who would be borderline staying in Catholic education to not have to worry about it and staying where they want to be. That was huge for a lot of our families.” — Jamie Hartrich, principal, St. Mary School, Bloomington
One of those families went further, calling it a blessing.
“Our family felt extremely lucky to be chosen and it has meant the world to us in so many ways. We are thankful for all who generously gave to this scholarship fund,” they wrote.
“We’re just leaving too many wonderful children behind,” said Michael Maloof, a member of the Diocesan Education Council’s Committee on Advancement and president of Jim Maloof/Realtor in Peoria.
“This just opens the door to reaching out to a family that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. That’s important because their souls are as important as ours,” he said.
“There are so many ways we can help our children and our families be more engaged in the parish, to be formed in our Catholic life,” Sister M. Mikela said. “The world is in need of us and we have a chance to do something. Why miss it?”
Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, noted that those who would like to make a donation to Empower Illinois and receive a 75 percent tax credit for it need to have a tax identification number first. That can take as much as a week, so potential donors should start soon if they want to make the Nov. 30 deadline.
Lally said the program is ongoing, however, so contributions at any time can benefit students in diocesan schools.
For more information, visit empowerillinois.org or the website of the Diocese of Peoria at cdop.org and click on the links for “Catholic Education” and “Tax Credit Scholarships.”