Changes to tax credit scholarship program pass, await governor’s signature

Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, greets supporters of HB 4126 from Chicago, Joliet and Peoria as he prepares to enter the Senate Executive Committee hearing to discuss the legislation at the State Capitol in Springfield. To his left is Robert Gilligan of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems

SPRINGFIELD — Weeks of advocating for improvements to the Invest in Kids Act paid off for parents, school administrators and supporters when House Bill 4126 was passed unanimously by both houses of the Illinois General Assembly on April 7.

Empower Illinois, the scholarship granting organization at the forefront of the advocacy effort, noted that the legislation will offer greater stability to those who currently receive tax credit scholarships by giving them priority each year. HB 4126 also allows for partial scholarships to be granted, which will benefit the more than 25,000 students still on the waiting list.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, discusses HB 4126 with (from left) Joanne Policht of St. John the Baptist School in Winfield, Chelsie Leffelman of Empower Illinois, and Cindy Dermody of Peoria Notre Dame during a legislative advocacy day in Springfield March 30. The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems

“Thanks to the support of families, schools, and community partners across Illinois who made their voices heard, HB 4126 is one step closer to improving Illinois’ tax credit scholarship program,” said Anthony Holder, president of Empower Illinois. “We look forward to working with Gov. Pritzker and his administration to have the bill signed and become law.”

Schools from the Diocese of Peoria were among those sending representatives to the State Capitol in Springfield to meet with lawmakers and talk about the impact the tax credit scholarships have on their families. Making in-person visits were Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, St. Joseph School in Pekin, and Peoria Notre Dame High School, while others called their legislators or met with them locally, according to Bobby Sylvester, director of school and community partnerships for Empower Illinois.

A recent advocacy day brought Cindy Dermody, director of advancement at Peoria Notre Dame High School; Joanne Policht, principal at St. John the Baptist School in Winfield; and parents and students from St. Sabina Academy and St. Ann School, both in Chicago, to Springfield.

In addition to Sylvester, they received encouragement from Juan Rangel, senior director of community and government affairs, and Chelsie Leffelman, regional manager for regions 4 and 5, both from Empower Illinois.

“We’re here to make sure that our representatives and our senators properly represent our interests,” Rangel said. “In this case, we’re talking about kids — kids in our schools. It’s very, very important that they hear from us, and more importantly hear from all of you.”


Enacted in 2017, the Invest in Kids Act was designed to provide tax credit scholarships to qualifying children in non-public schools for five years. It survived a proposed budget cut by Gov. JB Pritzker last year, and was extended for another year. It is expected to “sunset” on Jan. 1, 2024.

Bobby Sylvester (left) and Chelsie Leffelman (right) of Empower Illinois discuss next moves with Father Brendan Curran of Chicago and Cindy Dermody of Peoria during the March 30 advocacy day for HB 4126 at the State Capitol. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

The scholarships are funded through donors, who receive a 75 percent tax credit on their Illinois state income taxes for the amount they contribute. For example if someone donates $1,000 to a scholarship granting organization, that money would go to the non-public school of their choice and they would receive a $750 credit.

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria have been working with Empower Illinois to seek donors and contributions. In turn, Empower Illinois has been working with a coalition that includes the Catholic Conference of Illinois and Agudath Israel to support and advocate for the program.

This year’s discussions with lawmakers provided an important “bridge” for next year’s session, which will include work to extend the tax credit scholarship program, said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

“It’s going to be an exciting 12 months,” he said. “I’m optimistic, though. I’m very optimistic.”

In its 2021 Impact Report, Empower Illinois said 6,197 tax credit scholarships had been awarded to children from low-income and middle-class families across the state. The average scholarship amount was $6,600.

In all, over $250 million has been raised, with more than 28,000 scholarships granted since 2018.

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