(The Center Square) – As states continue to expand educational opportunities around the country, Illinois’ only school choice program is coming to an end.
On Dec. 31, the Invest in Kids scholarship tax credit program will be no more after the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly failed to renew the program during the fall veto session.
The Chicago Teachers Union called the end of the program a “historic win for public education.”
On the other hand, the Catholic Conference of Illinois blasted lawmakers.
“Due to the cruelty of the Illinois General Assembly, those 9,500 scholarships will not be available next school year. In addition, the hopes of more than 26,000 students on a waitlist who so desperately want a scholarship have been dashed as has using Invest in Kids scholarships at high school-level trade schools,” the group said in a statement.
The program allowed private donors to fund scholarships for low-income children so they could choose a private school when public schools were not the right fit. Contributors received an Illinois income tax credit equal to 75% of their donation. Since the Invest in Kids program launched in 2018, over 40,000 scholarships have been awarded.
Hera Varmah, tax scholarship expert with the American Federation for Children, said she envisions some Illinois families moving out of state in search of school choice.
“I have a feeling that is going to happen because once you give a family the choice of where they send their child then it’s taken away, they’re not going to be OK with the status quo of sending their child to this public school that is not serving them well,” said Varmah.
Opponents of the Invest in Kids program claimed that it took away funding from public education, but since the program started, funding to Illinois public schools increased by nearly $2 billion while total enrollment declined.
When the Invest in Kids pilot program was enacted, it required students receiving the scholarships to take the same standardized tests that public students take each year. The Illinois State Board of Education is required to publish the results, but has failed to do so. An analysis using 2022 and 2023 test results is scheduled to be released in 2024.
There is funding for students to complete the school year, but without the tax credit, it is unlikely that enough donations will pour in to keep the program going in the future.
Varmah said her family benefitted from school choice with her and several siblings eventually earning their college degrees.
“That is the power of education in America and we have to make sure that every family has the opportunity to access it,” said Varmah.