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Pritzker: ‘Willing to work with … or wind down’ school choice program set to expire

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(The Center Square) – As Illinois parents prepare their students for the start of the coming school year, some families sending their children to a private school of their choice through the state’s Invest in Kids scholarship program face uncertainty.

Legislators didn’t lift the end-of-year sunset on the Invest in Kids program before they adjourned spring session. Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said discussions continue.

“I’m willing to work with the program if it gets extended or to figure out how we would wind down the program if it doesn’t get extended,” Pritzker said.

The program is funded with private donations in exchange for a 75% state income tax credit. More than 41,000 students have benefited since the program was started nearly 5 years ago.

Pritzker said “nobody is trying to shut anything down.”

But, the Illinois Federation of Teachers union said the program diverts funds from public schools and “must sunset as intended” at the end of the year.

Pritzker said he’ll listen to both sides.

“People who say, ‘well, actually it’s not costing taxpayers anything,’ Actually, it’s costing taxpayers 75% of the total amount that gets raised,” Pritzker said. “And so that’s something that I think some people who are budget conscious are paying attention to as well.”

Earlier this year, Anthony Holter with granting organization Empower Illinois, said if the program isn’t extended beyond the end of 2023, it’s not just the short-term uncertainty that will strain families and schools.

“That school is making a commitment to that student for the next eight or nine years, and having the stability of the program to ensure that the family has the financial resources to attend that school over that period of time is critical,” Holter said.

The tax credit doesn’t hurt the budget, Holter argues. He said the benefit for families and children is priceless.

“So I would ask them to be courageous for kids and put aside some of these other concerns to focus squarely on those who this law was intended to benefit and that’s children from low-income and working-class communities through this state who desperately need choices and who with them will have a bright and vibrant future,” Holter said.

Legislators could take up an extension of the program during fall session.

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