Oct 24, 2023 - Politics

Illinois debates school choice tax credit

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Illinois lawmakers this week will consider extending a controversial tax credit for folks who fund private school scholarships for low-income families.

Why it matters: The Invest in Kids program has raised questions about whether state tax incentives should be used to fund private schools, especially religious schools.

Driving the news: The state legislature will debate an extension to the program, which is poised to sunset Dec. 31, and Gov. JB Pritzker has said he would sign off on it if passed. But two of the state's most powerful education unions are lobbying to have it killed, the Tribune reports.

  • Illinois Democrats are divided, with some seeing it as siphoning tax dollars from public schools.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind the program as part of their school choice platform and a way to reduce the influence of teachers unions.

How it works: Invest in Kids, which started in the 2018-19 school year, lets funders deduct 75% of their donations from what they would have paid in state tax up to $1 million per donor per year.

  • Every year the state can offer up to $75 million in Invest in Kids tax credits.

By the numbers: More than 9,600 Illinois students used IIK scholarships during the 2022-23 school year, according to state records.

  • To qualify, grantees must live in low-income households that make, for example, less than about $90,000 a year for a family of four. During the course of the scholarship, that income cannot rise above $120,000 a year, according to a Chalkbeat Chicago analysis.
  • In 2022-23, the majority of scholarship recipients (65%) were white, while 31% identified as Latino and 19% as Black.

What they're saying: Last week, openly gay State Rep. Kelly Cassidy criticized the program in a press release, saying it funds schools that lack protections for LGBTQ people and that students of color often don't benefit from it.

  • "At its core, Invest in Kids exists to send state funds to schools that wouldn't hire me as a lesbian, that teach that our family isn't real and that I am an abomination."

The other side: Conservative-leaning Illinois Policy Institute wrote in a recent post that thousands of low-income families rely on the program, "so their children can attend a school that best fits their needs."

  • "Without these scholarships, most of the families would be left without options and unable to afford a private education."
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