A controversial Illinois tax credit scholarship program could end if lawmakers don’t act to extend it.
Invest in Kids — which grants tax credits to people who fund scholarships that allow Illinois students from low-income families to attend private schools — is slated to sunset Dec. 31 unless state legislators approve an extension.
Jaclyn Driscoll, a spokeswoman for Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, said lawmakers still have time to extend Invest in Kids before the end of the year. The spring legislative session is scheduled to end Friday, but state lawmakers could approve an extension during a special session or the veto session in the fall.
The Invest In Kids Act became law in 2017, when Democrats and Republicans met during closed-door negotiations to overhaul how the state funded public education and ended a budget impasse that had lasted for two years. At the time, lawmakers agreed the program, which started in the 2018-19 school year, would sunset after five years. In 2022, the state extended the program by a year, with it now set to end January 2025 unless lawmakers agree to include it in the 2024 budget.
Several bills were introduced this session to extend the program, but none have been successful.
If Invest in Kids is allowed to end, Illinois will be bucking the trend of red states such as Indiana and South Carolina that plan to establish or extend their voucher programs.
Here are four things to know about Invest in Kids.
How many students currently benefit from the tax credit scholarships?
Over 9,000 Illinois students received the tax credit scholarship during the 2021-22 school year, according to a report from the state’s Department of Revenue obtained by Chalkbeat Chicago. In prior school years, enrollment numbers remained around 7,000 students.
Students who receive the scholarships come from low-income families. Under the tax credit scholarship law, students must come from households making less than 300% of the federal poverty level — which is about $90,000 for a family of four in 2023. Once the child receives a scholarship, the family income cannot exceed 400% of the federal poverty level, or about $120,000 for a family of four.
Of the students who received scholarships to attend private school in 2021-22, 57.6% were white, 29.7% were Latino, and 17.8 % were Black, according to the state’s report obtained by Chalkbeat Chicago.
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Who donates and gets tax credits?
Illinois taxpayers can make a donation to one of the six grantee organizations that provide scholarships to students — also known as Scholarship Granting Organizations — and receive a tax credit of 75 cents for every dollar they donate. The amount donated is capped at $1 million per taxpayer per year. The state Department of Revenue says that taxpayers can donate their funds to a school that they would like their contribution to benefit.
Why do people want the program to end?
Public school advocates who are against the tax scholarship program argue that Invest In Kids diverts taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools and lacks data or oversight. Some fear schools may discriminate against students with disabilities and LGBTQ students.
Illinois Families for Public Schools has been lobbying for the past few months to get state lawmakers to end the program. Cassie Creswell, director of the organization, says the state can’t afford a private school choice program because public schools are underfunded by billions of dollars.
“It should be deeply concerning to all public school supporters,” said Creswell. “Vouchers aren’t a evidenced-based policy that improve equity or education outcomes. We shouldn’t be funding them with scarce state dollars.”
What happens if Invest In Kids sunsets this year?
It’s unclear what will happen to the 9,000 students who receive scholarships to attend private schools if the tax credit scholarship program were to sunset. State law says the Invest In Kids Act will end Jan. 1, 2025, meaning students would at least have the chance to continue going to their schools through the 2023-24 school year.
School voucher advocates remain hopeful that the general assembly and Gov. J.B. Pritzker will continue to support the program — Pritzker said yes to supporting the tax credit scholarship program in a candidate survey for the Chicago Sun-Times in the fall.
Dan Vosnos, executive director of One Chance Illinois, an advocacy group involved in creating Invest In Kids, said the program has been helpful for families who cannot afford to go to a school of their choice.
“It allows families that don’t have the means to provide their child with their best fit education,” said Vosnos. “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.”
Update May 17, 2023: After the initial publication of this article, a spokesperson from the Speaker of the House said the Illinois general assembly has until the end of the year to extend Invest in Kids.
Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering school districts across the state, legislation, special education, and the state board of education. Contact Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org.