During the 2023 session, Republicans in the Senate and House fought hard to continue a tax credit scholarship program for low-income Illinois school children. Through private donations made to a special fund, children in schools that were failing them for whatever reason had an opportunity to improve their chances for academic success by moving to a learning environment that met their needs. Donors to the program received a 75% Illinois income tax credit in exchange for their donations. It was incredibly successful, bringing in over $308 million since 2017 to fund more than 38,000 individual scholarships.
The program, known as “Invest in Kids,” did not siphon taxpayer dollars away from public schools because hold-harmless clauses in the school funding formula protect schools from losses in enrollment. Nevertheless, Democrats purposely killed Invest in Kids, ending a tremendously beneficial program that changed the academic trajectory for close to 10,000 disadvantaged kids.
Illinois Democrats advocate for equity and opportunity for struggling Illinois families. Well, in the case of educational excellence for kids from low-income households, that certainly wasn’t the case. It did not matter that 2/3 of the Invest in Kids scholarship recipients came from households that were living at less than 185% of the federal poverty level, which equates to less than $50,000 per year for a family of four, or that over 25% of the recipients came from households making less than $26,500 per year. It didn’t matter that most of the scholarship recipients came from the districts Democrat legislators represent. Union bosses wanted the program to go away, and lawmakers who look forward to fat campaign checks from them were happy to oblige.
In addition to the roughly 10,000 kids who will likely return to schools that were previously failing them, we now see additional collateral damage from the dissolution of the tax credit scholarship program. Two private schools in the Chicagoland area and two others from southern Illinois recently announced they are closing their doors permanently because of the end of Invest in Kids. St. Frances of Rome School in Cicero and St. Odilo School in Berwyn said most of their students were beneficiaries of the scholarships. Without the program, the kids could not remain at the school, and without those tuition dollars, the schools would not be able to make ends meet.
Notre Dame Academy in Belleville and St. Ann in Nashville, IL are closing their doors for similar reasons. Subsequently, the other non-scholarship students who attend the four schools will also be left scrambling for a new educational setting, and the teachers, support staff, and other employees from these four private schools will lose their jobs. I have no doubt these schools are the first of many that will close their doors due to the ending of Invest in Kids.
I spent every day of my K-12 education in a public school setting, and I believe I received an excellent education that prepared me well for my collegiate studies. Many people I know can say the same. However, some kids do not thrive in a traditional public school setting. Some have challenges that prevent them from reaching their educational potential. For those kids and their families, options must be available, and for those who cannot afford private school tuition, we need programs to help them. Invest in Kids was the perfect solution for struggling students.
I have said this many times: a child’s opportunities for educational success should not be dictated by their zip code. For that reason, Republicans are not giving up on Illinois’ kids. In 2024, we will be pushing a “Reinvest in Kids” initiative. We must bring these transformational scholarships back. Personally, I don’t just want to see the program reinstated; I believe it should be expanded so that even more kids can avail themselves of these scholarships.
This issue does not need to be divisive. Illinois has room for strong public schools and tuition-based scholarships to care for non-traditional learners who would do better in a different environment.
It is time to Reinvest in Kids.