Illinois Senate Republicans Fight to Save Invest in Kids Scholarship Program as Expiration Looms

Illinois Senate Republicans Fight to Save Invest in Kids Scholarship Program as Expiration LoomsSource:
Richard M. Sullivan
Published on November 07, 2023

Ahead of the expiration of the Illinois Invest in Kids Scholarship Program at the end of 2023, Senate Republicans are striving to preserve the initiative. This program, instituted since 2017, provides scholarships to disadvantaged students, enabling them to attend suitable educational institutions. As reported by Fox Illinois, the program currently serves over 9,000 students.

Supporters of the Invest in Kids Scholarship program are calling on the General Assembly, to vote on the program's extension. Notably, they may have gained the support of Governor JB Pritzker. Despite earlier opposition during his 2018 campaign, Pritzker recently seems more open to discussing the program's extension. Capitol News Illinois quoted him affirming his stance on educational pluralism, “I’ve always said, you know, that we're not trying to prevent people from going to private school, but I also believe in public education and want to make sure that we're funding public education, to the extent that that is possible,”

Private donations, attracting tax breaks from the state, are the lifeblood of the Invest in Kids Scholarship program. These funds provide scholarships for low-income students, granting more access to private schooling. However, critics argue that these tax cuts could be more beneficial if channeled towards public education. With the program's imminent expiration, Senate Republicans are urging a vote on its continuity.

The desire to save the program has drawn widespread attention. Senate Republican leader, John Curran, has expressed his caucus's willingness to compromise for the program's survival, potentially settling on a scaled-down version of the program. This potential compromise is contained within House Bill 4194, proposing to reduce the program's annual budget from $75 million to $50 million and adjusting the tax credit to stimulate smaller donations.

However, not all lawmakers agree with the proposed changes. A notable group of conservative lawmakers views the House Democrats' proposal as unsatisfactory, advocating instead for the extension and growth of the current program. One of the most vocal supporters, the Catholic Conference of Illinois, remains hopeful for an extension. Its executive director, Bob Gilligan, consistently relays the urgency of the situation to legislators, saying, "9,500 kids are waiting for a decision."

The Invest in Kids Scholarship program teeters on the edge of discontinuation as proponents, critics, and lawmakers weigh the value of private school access for disadvantaged students against the state's obligation to prioritize public education. The debate's outcome is set to determine the futures of thousands of students, and the longevity of a program intent on improving educational equality.