State's tax-credit scholarship program off to a solid start, education advocate says
A tax-credit scholarship program enacted by Illinois lawmakers last summer to provide tuition to attend nonpublic schools has brought in more than $40 million, the director of an education advocacy group said during an interview last weekend.
"As of right now we’re at $41,065,406," Empower Illinois Executive Director Myles X. Mendoza said during an email interview with Prairie State Wire.
Much of that total came in during the opening days the program, "Invest in Kids Act," which has been underway less than a month. "This program allows schools to help ensure every student, regardless of financial constraints, has access to a high-quality education," Mendoza said.
"Participation in this program allows schools to help students find their home at a school that otherwise might not have been an option for them," Mendoza said. "Partnering with a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) also allows school donors to designate funds directly to a specific school or organization while the SGO handles processing and distributes the scholarship funds. Participating schools have access to a portal with student, donor and fundraising data so they can keep track of all information."
The program benefits students and schools that otherwise might have found each other out of reach, Mendoza said. "This program will allow students to attend schools that were once not an option for them due to household income," he said. "In turn, these schools become more diverse by opening up their doors to students from all financial backgrounds."
The Invest in Kids Act, with provisions to award scholarship, invest in school infrastructure and provide tax relief to teachers who personally purchase supplies for their students, was part of the broad school funding agreement passed by the Illinois General Assembly last summer. The act was widely seen as a last minute concession to Republican lawmakers to get them to back the omnibus bill that was otherwise largely Democrat-friendly legislation.
With the legislation's passage, Illinois became the 18th state in the nation to establish a tax-credit scholarship program to provide tuition money for students to attend nonpublic schools.
Under the act, taxpayers may contribute up to $1.3 million to eligible organizations. Contributors also can receive an income tax credit equal to 75 percent of their approved contributions with a state-enforced cap of $100 million in annual contributions. "While this program does benefit the donors who receive the 75 percent tax credit on their donations, most importantly it benefits the thousands of students who are able to receive a high-quality education thanks to these scholarships," Mendoza said.
The Invest in Kids Act attracted more than $36 million in pledged contributions on its first day, Jan. 2, according to a press release issued the following day by Gov. Bruce Rauner. "When we unleash the power of private-sector investment incentives like Invest in Kids, great things are possible," Rauner said in the release. "Within its first hour of going live, more than one-third of all Invest in Kids contributions have been allocated for the 2018 tax year. This outpouring of generosity is truly a testament to the many Illinoisans who believe in offering students and their families a choice in their education."