Passion drives Empower Illinois, One Chance Illinois to save TCS program from state budget axe
President Myles Mendoza and staffers at Empower Illinois, One Chance Illinois Action have no problem finding motivation for the work they do.
“A majority of Illinois families can count on great public schools, but when this is not the case, too many children with financial challenges are left behind,” Mendoza told the Prairie State Wire. “A family’s income should not dictate what schooling opportunities they are afforded.”
Mendoza and company recently proved that way of thinking is more than just a slogan for the nonprofit advocacy group out of Chicago.
With the state’s tax credit scholarship (TCS) program on the chopping block as part of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2019 state spending plan, the children’s education activist organization spearheaded a campaign that generated enough statewide support to save the program that provides thousands of underprivileged kids with non-public school scholarships. As part of the Invest in Kids Act created in 2017, the tax credit scholarship program is funded through private donations where donors are allowed to receive tax credits of up to 75 percent. As part of the original five-year pilot program, as much as $100 million in scholarships was earmarked for children from low-income and working-class families across the state.
“In its first year, the Invest in Kids scholarship program helped 7,178 students afford to attend the school that best fit their learning needs,” Mendoza said. “Families know better than anyone how these scholarships change lives and provide financial assistance to support their children’s education. Thanks to these scholarships, parents can help their children thrive in an educational environment that best fits their individual needs.”
Over a monthlong period leading up to the final week of the spring legislative session in Springfield, One Chance staffers “recruited, trained and empowered” impassioned volunteers and regularly transported them to the State Capitol Building to voice their support for the program. The volunteers hailed from every legislative district in the state and shared their stories face-to-face with lawmakers during their daily trips to the capital.
“We wanted to take this opportunity to connect legislators with their constituents who are part of the Invest in Kids scholarship community, in order to hear their stories first-hand,” Mendoza said. “These stories are powerful and remind our elected officials about the children and families who benefit from the quality educational options provided by Invest in Kids scholarships.”
With well over 40,000 students now hoping to receive program scholarships starting this fall, Mendoza said the magnitude of the program cannot be questioned.
“We know kids only get one chance at a quality education, and we all have a role to play in ensuring this reality for all children,” he said. “Empower Illinois will continue to advocate for families seeking brighter futures for their students and defend the education initiatives that serve them.”