(The Center Square) – Whether Illinois legislators save the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program that is set to expire at the end of this year is still unknown.
Under a five-year trial period, the Invest in Kids Tax program has provided tuition money for working class and low-income families who want to send their children to Illinois private schools. The initiative is set to expire at the end of 2023, unless the state legislature acts to extend it. Lawmakers are in session through May 19.
Anthony Holter is president of Empower Illinois, a research and advocacy organization that promotes the program and raises scholarship funds. Holter said 9,700 students received scholarships for the 2022-2023 school year. Twenty-two thousand students were wait-listed for scholarships when the $75 million in donated funds was used up. The program is capped at $100 million in donations.
“We love pilot programs, because we know unequivocally that this program works,” Holter told The Center Square. “Over $330 million has been raised in the past five years and almost 41,000 scholarships have been issued.”
Ninety-two percent of Illinois private schools participate in the program, including Illinois Catholic schools, the largest group of private schools in the state.
“A bright spot and a hallmark of this program is that children can attend any private K-12 school. Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, science, arts, whatever is the best fit for them,” Holter said.
Scholarships are not only for the smartest kids. One out of nine students who apply have a unique learning need, he said.
“There is a broad diversity of students that includes gifted students as well as students with learning needs or some kind of learning disability,” he said.
Sixty-percent of scholarship recipients are non-white.
Scholarships are awarded in five different regions of the state on a first-come, first-served basis. Families can apply online and get a timestamp on their applications. Recipients must meet income requirements in order to qualify.
“First and foremost, this is a needs-based program,” Holter said.
Two-thirds of scholarship recipients have an average family household income of $45,046, or 170% of the federal poverty level. Seventy percent of scholarship recipients meet federal guidelines to be eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. The upper income limit cutoff for the program is $90,000 a year for a family of four.
Taxpayers who donate to a Children Benefit from Education Scholarship Organization can apply online at Tax.Illinois.gov to receive the 75% tax credit in return for their donation. For a $1,000 donation, the taxpayer receives a $750 tax credit.
Critics say the tax money should be directed to underfunded public schools instead of being given to donors through a tax credit. Holder said the Invest in Kids Act came about in 2017 as part of a package that included evidence-based funding, which prioritizes funding for the state’s neediest public schools.