(The Center Square) – News around schools aiming to close if Illinois legislators do not reauthorize a privately funded school choice scholarship program has some urging for swift action on the issue.
Illinois’ Invest in Kids school choice scholarship program provided private donors a 75% Illinois income tax credit. The program never saw the full investment potential, but has given nearly 41,000 children the ability to go to a school of their families’ choosing since 2018. The program expired at the end of 2023, after legislators failed to approve an extension.
Before the House adjourned Thursday until later this month, state Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said the stories of schools preparing to close, and the impact on students and families, should spur action to reinstate the program.
“Nine-thousand, five-hundred underprivileged children are about to lose their best chance at a bright future,” he said. “If these schools have to close because the credit isn’t there, then guess what folks, we’ve just impacted more than just those 9,500 kids who have bet their futures on this type of education.”
The program was opposed by public school unions. In praising the program’s sunset, the Illinois Education Association called it a “voucher scheme.” And, despite the program being privately funded in exchange for a tax credit, the IEA said it diverts taxpayer dollars away from public schools, even though public education spending in Illinois increases each year.
“Eighty percent of our public schools in Illinois are underfunded,” IEA President Al Llorens said in November. “We need to focus on providing the necessary funding to our public schools so that all children in Illinois continue to have access to a high-quality, public education.”
Public schools in Illinois have seen an increase in taxpayer funding of around $350 million each year since the inception of the Invest in Kids program.
Last month, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced several private schools would close where a majority of the schools’ students are recipients of the Invest in Kids scholarship.
“Since the scholarship program has lapsed, we’re seeing the negative effects on not only the recipients, but also on their schools and classmates,” said Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. “We simply cannot stand back and watch schools close.”
Ugaste implored the Democratic supermajority to join the Republican minority to reinstate the program.
“We have 40 votes we’re willing to put on it. You have the power to have the bills called,” he said. “Please work together with us and help the children of Illinois.”
Legislators return Feb. 20.