Lawmakers decline to extend private school scholarship tax credit program
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers adjourned their fall veto session Thursday afternoon without renewing a controversial program that provided indirect state support for students attending private and religious schools.
The Invest in Kids program will sunset as scheduled on Dec. 31, meaning donors to six state-approved private school scholarship funds will no longer be able to claim a 75 percent tax credit for their donations. The program has been capped at $75 million annually since its implementation in 2018.
Advocates for the program say without the tax incentives, the scholarship organizations won’t be able to raise the money they have in recent years, and an estimated 9,600 students who currently receive those scholarships may have to find another way to pay for their education or transfer to their local public school.
Lawmakers passed the Invest in Kids Act in 2017 as part of a bipartisan package that also included an overhaul of the way Illinois funds public preK-12 education. The scholarship program was considered necessary in order to get then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, to sign the public school funding overhaul.
Supporters of the program argued that it gave children from lower-income backgrounds the ability to attend schools that would otherwise be available only to wealthier families. But opponents, including teachers’ unions and other advocates for public education, argued that the tax credits siphoned money out of state coffers that could have been used to support public schools.
Last month, state Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, D-Chicago, introduced House Bill 4194, which would have renewed a scaled-back version of the program. But that bill was never called for a vote.
One question that remained unanswered about the program is whether students who received private school scholarships performed any better academically than their peers who went to public schools.
The 2017 law required students receiving the scholarships to take the same standardized tests that public school students take each year, and it called on the Illinois State Board of Education to publish an analysis of that data.
But ISBE has not yet published that analysis. Officials at the agency said they were unable to collect reliable data during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. An analysis using 2022 and 2023 test results is scheduled for release later this year or early in 2024.
Throughout the veto session, dozens of supporters of the program converged on the Statehouse wearing blue t-shirts and waving signs that read, “Protect our scholarships.”
House Republican leader Tony McCombie, of Savanna, told reporters Thursday that she believes the program still has bipartisan support, and she said its backers will continue working to have it reinstated.
“It certainly will continue to be a priority of the caucus, and it certainly will be a priority of several of the Democrats in the House as well as, I believe, in the Senate,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be something that they’re going to want to just stop.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.
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