Disappointment, resolve after inaction ends tax credit scholarship program
By Paul Thomas Moore
Lawmakers failed to extend the Invest in Kids Act tax credit scholarship program during the recent fall veto sessions of the Illinois Legislature ending Nov. 9, but proponents say the fight is not over.
More than 9,500 Illinois children of low-income families receive tuition support through the Invest in Kids program, with currently funded scholarships scheduled to end at the conclusion of the school year. Donors to the program, which began in 2017, receive a 75 percent tax credit on contributions.
“It is difficult to put into words the level of disappointment so many are experiencing today,” the Catholic Conference of Illinois wrote in a statement issued after the veto session ended.
Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar (D-Chicago), was the lead sponsor for a compromise bill that would have reduced the total donations eligible for tax credits from $75 to $50 million (and emphasized scholarships for students in underserved areas), but the bill never came to a vote.
Dr. Jerry Sanderson, associate superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Peoria, participated in a conference call on Nov. 15 with non-public school administrators from across Illinois in the wake of the failure to extend the program. He said the consensus on the call was that “pressure from the public-school teacher unions . . . basically led the legislature not to bring it to a vote.”
He responded to criticisms of the program for supposedly diverting taxpayer dollars from public education, and for a purported “lack of transparency” regarding student test scores and graduation rates. “Actually, public schools have had an increase in funding yearly since Invest in Kids was adopted,” he pointed out.
Moreover, in terms of tracking student success, Sanderson said the Invest in Kids Act required the state to assess the academic performance of scholarship students, and participant schools have “openly shared” that information. “We are still awaiting a report from the state showing a comparison between scholarship students in private schools, and public school students,” he said, and commented “for whatever reason, the state chose not to release that information prior to Invest in Kids sunsetting.”
STILL TIME TO DONATE
The Catholic Conference of Illinois vowed to continue the fight. “The General Assembly reconvenes in January,” the Nov. 9 CCI statement reads. “We will continue our efforts to find a way that allows for more educational opportunities such as Invest in Kids for low-income students and parents who need this program.”
Sanderson emphasized that current scholarship recipients are in no danger of losing their funding for the second semester of this school year. Rep. Guerrero-Cuellar has indicated her intention to bring forward new legislation in the spring.
Meanwhile, Empower Illinois, the nonprofit organization which administers Invest in Kids, says there is still time for donors to receive the 75 percent tax credit, and scholarships for 2023-24 will continue to be distributed to schools through Dec. 29, as funds become available. December deadlines for donations are detailed at donations.empowerillinois.org.