Educators and parents within the Diocese of Joliet are concerned about possibly losing funding for a state tax credit scholarship program used to help students in need attend nonpublic schools.
The diocese hosted an event Monday night to discuss the benefits of a Catholic education and the importance of providing financial aid for students in need.
The Invest in Kids Act offers a 75 percent income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to qualified scholarship-granting organizations. Those SGOs then provide scholarships for students whose families meet the income requirement to attend qualified, nonpublic schools in Illinois. The program was capped at $100 million and would end after five years.
According to a report by Empower Illinois, the SGO the Diocese of Joliet mainly works with, the first year of the program saw more than $45 million raised and 5,459 scholarships granted out of 32,456 applicants. The Diocese of Joliet said more than 300 of its students, out of 2,800 applicants, were helped by more than $2.5 million. Empower Illinois takes 5 percent of the money.
State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee, was invited to explain the situation from her perspective. She talked about how the new education funding formula was changed in 2017. To override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto, the Democrats needed Republican support in the General Assembly, and they were able to get that by including the tax credit scholarship program.
Bertino Tarrant filed a bill, SB 1513, which would amend the Invest in Kids Act so that if the minimum funding level, as required by state law, wasn’t met in a given fiscal year, then the 75 percent tax credit would not be awarded. But the donations could still be used for scholarships.
“It has never been my intention; it has never been my hope that this program ends,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “Even the bill I am presenting doesn’t do that.”
Bertino-Tarrant said she plans to hold the bill in the Assignments Committee because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal, which would lower the cap to $50 million but would not change the five-year phaseout.
The senator had other concerns about the program like how the diocese had to compete with other schools throughout region for the scholarship money and how they would know the money was going to the appropriate students. Mercy Robb, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Joliet, said they do know the names of the families who applied and who received the money.