GSWNH_InvestInKidsProtest_112423

Catholic schools dilemma

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After loss in Springfield, advocates search for a Plan B

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By Tim Hadac

After a clear defeat in Springfield earlier this month, supporters of the state’s Invest in Kids scholarship program—which includes a number of Catholic school parents on the Southwest Side—are searching for a Plan B.

“What we do at this point remains to be seen,” said one Southwest Side Catholic-school teacher who asked not to be identified. “I do know this. I hope that when Catholic Schools Week comes up in January, our local state senators and state representatives stay away. I, for one, have no interest in taking part in their annual photo opps where they lie about their support for Catholic education.”

The bitterness stems from the decision by state lawmakers to adjourn on the final day of fall veto session without a vote on extending the state’s Invest in Kids scholarship program.

The program will end on Dec. 31, terminating scholarships for more than 9,600 low-income students at private schools statewide.

GSWNH InvestInKidsProtest 112423

Catholic school students from across the state, including pupils from St. Nicholas of Tolentine
School in West Lawn, rode to Springfield earlier this month to rally in the Capitol and demand
that lawmakers save the Invest in Kids initiative. – Supplied photo

Illinois enacted the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program in 2017. The program offers a 75% income tax credit to individuals and businesses contributing to qualified Scholarship Granting Organizations. The SGOs then provide scholarships for students whose families meet the income requirements to attend qualified, non-public schools and technical academies in Illinois.

When it was debated more than five years ago, opponents predicted the program would harm public education across the state by siphoning funds away. Earlier this month, that prediction was disputed by Jim Long, Vice President of Government Affairs at Illinois Policy Institute, a non-profit conservative advocacy organization.

The program died when Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch refused to call it for a vote this month. Through a spokesman, Welch later said he declined to call the bill because it did not have enough to votes to pass—which some critics said was a way to protect his fellow Democrats by preventing them from voting “no” on a bill popular among their Catholic constituents.

As for a Plan B, Rockford-area Republican State Senator Dave Syverson said, “[Invest in Kids] is something that had bipartisan support just a few years ago…This is a program that hasn’t taken away from the public schools. That’s been clear in the in the budgeting, we know that it’s worked. And there’s really no reason why this shouldn’t continue to help the families in Illinois. So we’re going to continue to push for this. If they do not allow a vote, we’ll start again in January (when the General Assembly begins its spring session).”

Adding to that was Rockford-area Republican State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, who said Invest in Kids is popular with parents across the state.

“[In addition to the 9,600 currently served], there’s 20,000 to 30,000 other students who are on a waiting list…families that want to try to get into the program and so what we really should be talking about is how do we expand this? How do we create more opportunities for more families because we know the demand is out there?

“You know, we have wealthy folks, elites, you know, like the governor, the speaker, heads of the teachers unions and even public school teachers themselves,” Sosnowski continued. “For whatever reason, they decided and they looked at it for their student that it was important for them to have an alternative to the public school that they were in. And that’s fine. That’s great that they decided to do that. They have the opportunity and the financial means to do that. But why wouldn’t we give that same opportunity to families with financial need?”

Peter Romagnolo, a retired teacher who has raised funds for various Catholic schools in the area, said he places “little confidence” in trying to resurrect Invest in Kids.

“The politicians have spoken by their silence,” he said. “Even [Cardinal Blase Cupich] has spoken, by his failure to head down to Springfield with those schoolkids. What’s best now is for Catholic schools—and by that I mean the laity led by the parents and local business communities—to simply get about doing grassroots work to bring in more donations, more revenue, to keep schools afloat and beyond that, generate scholarships for parents who need help sending their boys and girls to Catholic schools.”

Observers credited the political muscle of the Chicago Teachers Union with killing Invest in Kids. (Editor’s note: Please see “Pols fail private-school kids,” page 5.) CTU officials spiked the ball in the end zone, refusing to use the term “Invest in Kids” and instead refer to it as an unnamed “voucher scheme.”

In a statement, CTU officials said, “Illinois lawmakers made history by being the first state in the nation to eliminate a school voucher program, a ‘reform’ effort started in 1956 by white parents in North Carolina seeking to stop public school integration. The dedicated efforts of organizers and advocates made this triumph for public education possible, marking a significant milestone in the fight for anti-racist, gender affirming, pro-immigrant, equitable and fully funded public schools.

“This achievement…strikes an incredible blow to a movement that is dead set on destroying public education and destabilizing black, brown and working class communities. Willing to demonize educators and their families, defund their classrooms and attack their unions, those behind the push for the voucher program in this state have made it clear that their agenda came before the well-being of children and their families.

“Here is the truth, you cannot improve schools while ignoring the community. Ending this ‘school choice’ voucher program that had siphoned more than $75 million a year away from public education now codifies that into law.”

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