socastcmsRssStartBy Cole Lauterbach | Illinois News NetworksocastcmsRssEnd
With Democrats firmly in control of all Illinois branches of government, the future of the state’s private school scholarship program – and the thousands of students that are using it – is uncertain.
As part of last year’s sweeping school funding overhaul that is sending hundreds of millions of additional tax dollars to public schools, lawmakers endorsed the Invest in Kids private school scholarship program. It provides up to $75 million in tax breaks to donors who give money to help students attend the private school of their choice.
The donated money is divvied up through Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs, like Empower Illinois. If the full $100 million is donated, it would allow Empower and the handful of other SGOs to send between 10,000 and 15,000 students to a private school with tuition largely covered.
Empower executive director Anthony Holter estimates more than 6,000 students have been given grants through the program, with tens of thousands still on waiting lists.
Holter said the program has made a difference for students and their families.
“A couple weeks ago, we were at St. Francis of Rome and a father spoke about his daughter receiving the scholarship,” he said. “It meant he didn’t have to work three jobs, just two.”
Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has criticized the program, saying it saps state funds that should go to public schools and that he would work to end it.
Doing so would be seen as a breach of the deal Democrats struck with Republicans who supported the funding overhaul that contained provisions that gave Chicago Public Schools a sizable boost in state funding, immunity from funding cuts due to dropping enrollment and pension relief. When asked about what CPS had received in the law, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel replied: “Everything and more.”
Holter isn’t sure about how soon Democrats could shut down the program if they decided to do so.
“It is on the minds of parents, school leaders and donors as well,” he said.
Pritzker’s campaign didn’t respond Thursday to requests for comment about the program.
After the bill was signed into law, Democrats cried foul, saying that the program was inserted in the school funding reform package at the last minute.
State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, <a href="https://www.ilnews.org/news/schools/democrats-move-bill-that-could-kill-private-scholarship-program/article_43b4de68-1265-11e8-9437-d34c77e0434d.html">drafted legislation</a> that would have withheld the donations until all Illinois public schools received their recommended minimum funding level every year, something that would not likely happen.
More than $50 million in donations have been promised to students so far. The pilot program expires in 2022.