The Democratic-led Illinois Legislature is likely going to let the state’s main school choice program die despite the outcry from parents and school choice advocates.
Invest in Kids, a tax-credit scholarship, is going to sunset at the end of this year unless the Legislature takes action.
“The tax credit scholarship program needs to continue to exist so that we can continue to educate our children the way we, the parents, choose to have our children educated,” said Sheila Passehl, whose son is thriving at a Catholic school, thanks to the program.
“The scholarship takes the financial stress off of us, and it gives us the opportunity to not have to pick and choose which sports or activities the kids are going to be restricted to,” Passehl continued.
Polling shows that most Illinois residents, especially parents, support school choice, which is confirmed by the demand for the program.
In the past year, there were 31,000 applications for just 9,000 scholarships.
“We know unequivocally that this program works,” Anthony Holter, president of Empower Illinois, told The Center Square. “Over $330 million has been raised in the past five years and almost 41,000 scholarships have been issued.”
While the program is geared toward low-income students, Holter also revealed that 11% of recipients have learning disabilities and 60% are non-white.
“First and foremost, this is a needs-based program,” said Holter.
Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner even weighed in, saying it would be a shame to allow Invest in Kids to sunset.
“In too many communities, the parents do not have an adequate school and they should be empowered to choose a school that fits their child,” Rauner said. “It’s a huge step back for empowering parents in the state of Illinois to lose that program.”
School choice supporters say such programs are especially needed in states like Illinois, where only 30% of public school students meet reading standards and a mere 25% are proficient in math.
While Gov. J.B. Pritzker says it’s not impossible for the program to be revised and renewed, it’s unlikely Invest in Kids will receive meaningful support from the democratic governor – especially given Pritzker’s track record of flip-flopping on school choice issues.
One the program’s biggest opponents is the teachers’ union.
“One of the country’s biggest school voucher schemes is operating right here in Illinois,” claims the Illinois Education Association’s website. “The Invest in Kids program, intentionally deceitfully named, has lasted longer and helped fewer students than promised.”
Even Lori Lightfoot, Democratic former mayor of Chicago, accused the union of being too political.
“Anybody who believes this teachers’ union is merely a union hasn’t been paying attention,” Lightfoot said in 2022. “They believe themselves to be a political movement or political party.”
Meanwhile, school choice advocates say they’re helping families find the best opportunities for their kids.
“[Invest in Kids] allows families that don’t have the means to provide their child with their best fit education,” said Dan Vosnos, executive director of One Chance Illinois, which helped create the program. “It gives families reassurance that their kids are in a loving, caring, nurturing, safe environment getting the education that they may not have received at their neighborhood school.”