(The Center Square) – The clock is ticking on Illinois’ only school choice program.
With the first few days of the fall veto session in the books, Illinois lawmakers have yet to tackle the Invest in Kids program. The tax credit scholarship program, which is funded by individuals and companies who receive an Illinois income tax credit for donating to the program, is set to expire at the end of the year.
Created in 2017, Invest in Kids allows people to donate to private school scholarship funds and receive a tax credit up to 75% of their donation.
Since the program began, nearly 41,000 scholarships have been awarded to students from low-income and working-class families.
Scores of families descended onto the Illinois Capitol this week calling for the program to be renewed, including Ann Storey from Springfield.
“It gives families one way to have a say in their children’s grade school, middle school and high school education and make a choice that is best for them, and as a single mom right now, it is best for me to have all my children in one school,” Storey told The Center Square. “I just really hope that they think about the kids.”
Sofia, a young student from Joliet, said eliminating the program midway through the school year would have a negative effect on many.
“There’s going to be more people suffering and also being stressed out, so we want to make sure what’s going to happen in our future,” she said.
Proposed changes being talked about at the statehouse would keep the program going for another five years but would reduce the maximum tax credit dollar amount from $1 million to $500,000 and would reduce the total overall scholarship opportunity amount from $75 million to $50 million.
Critics of the proposed changes, including the Illinois Freedom Caucus, said it would limit the program’s effectiveness.
“This proposal is a non-starter. It will not make the program permanent, and it reduces the available funding for scholarships. The best course of action would be to extend the program and to expand it,” the group said in a statement. “This school year alone, the scholarship program has helped 9,500 kids escape failing schools. There are 26,000 applicants in need of scholarship help. But instead of helping kids, it appears the Legislature is dead set on making it harder for this program to help kids in need.”
The Illinois Education Association has been a strong critic of the program. President Al Llorens stated recently that the program helps mostly white children. But an Empower Illinois disputes that claim, showing that in 2022 at least 53% of the students receiving scholarships wear Black or Hispanic.
Illinois lawmakers will have another opportunity to renew the program when they return to Springfield for the final three days of session this calendar year beginning Nov. 7.
Greg Bishop contributed to this report.