SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s the final week for a battle over a controversial scholarship program in Illinois.
The Invest in Kids program is designed to help students whose families can’t afford private schools, by giving a income tax credit to donors of non-profits. More than 9,000 students currently use the program to help afford their education.
The program was not included in this year’s state budget, and is set to expire at the end of 2023.
Lawmakers are gathering for veto session this week which is the last scheduled time to vote on bills in the year. Families rallied in the capitol Tuesday, wearing blue and chanting “Save Our Scholarships!” as lawmakers headed to the floor.
Parents like Rhonda Dyson are worried for their children’s future if legislators don’t hear their plea.
“It’s so hard to be able to try to get your child into the public schools around the house, you got to have different criteria and get to live in certain areas or zip codes,” Dyson said.
Eva Villalobos, a Chicago mother of four, said private school education fits her family the best, but she will be unable to afford the high costs of tuition without the scholarship.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with my daughters,” Villalobos said. “One needs additional support; she does not do well in large class sizes. And I don’t know what their academic quality is going to be unfortunately in another type of school.”
Several Republicans are also calling for the program to continue.
“It is abhorrent that there are leaders in the legislature that are ignoring the pleas of these children and these families that are trying to save their educational opportunity their preferred setting where that they’re excelling and educationally,” Senate Republican Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove) said at a news conference. “We have to listen to these children and and the parents that have been here and afford this choice to these low-income families.”
Since Republicans are in the super minority in both chambers, the fate of the program rests in the hands of Democrats. Governor J.B. Pritzker previously indicated he would sign a bill extending the program if it reached his desk. A spokesperson with House Democratic caucus told WCIA the conversation with Invest in Kids is “ongoing”.
Eight Democratic members of congress from Illinois, including Rep. Nikki Budzinski, issued a joint statement opposing an extension to the program. They argue the program diverts more money away from underfunded public schools to fund private schools that can discriminate against students for their disability, sexual orientation, or immigration status.
“School vouchers, including Invest in Kids tax credit scholarships, perpetuate and deepen the education inequities that plague Illinois,” part of the statement reads. “The majority of private schools participating in Invest in Kids are run by religious groups, and using public dollars to fund religion runs counter to the principles on which our country was founded.”
A compromise bill was filed in the House of Representatives by Democratic representatives. The bill made heavy cuts to both the amount of money the state can give out in tax credits and in the amount of money a donor can get back from the credit.
People who donated to the program were eligible for a 75 percent tax credit, but under the new proposal, donors could get a 100 percent tax credit for the first $5,000 they donate. They could also get 55 or 65 percent tax credit, depending on whether there donation goes to a student living in an underserved area for the amount over $5,000.
The compromise bill has not been called for a vote so far.