The fate of the state’s Invest in Kids tax credit program will be decided in the last days of the legislature’s veto session, Nov. 7-9, and two local organizations heard recently from an advocate who argued the program should be allowed to expire.
The League of Women Voters of Homewood-Flossmoor Area and the National Council of Jewish Women South Cook Section hosted a presentation by Cassie Creswell, director of the Illinois Families for Public Schools at Flossmoor Public Library on Oct. 18.
LVW chapter co-President Sandra Slayton read a statement prior to the presentation articulating the league’s position on the issue.
“The league believes every person should have access to free public education that provides equal opportunity for all,” she read. “The league opposes the use of public dollars for private schools and believes voucher programs such as the Invest in Kids Act divert resources from Illinois’s underfunded schools and don’t improve academic outcomes for voucher recipients. The league is opposed to continuing invest in kids program.”
Creswell spelled out the reasons her organization opposes the renewal of the act, which was passed during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and is due to sunset on Dec. 31 if the legislature takes no action to extend it.
The program provides a 75% tax credit for donations to scholarship granting organizations, which use the money to provide scholarships for students to attend private schools.
Creswell said 95% of the schools benefiting from the scholarships are religious, which not only violates the principle of separating church and state but decreases transparency and leads to discrimination and stratification because religious schools are subject to less oversight and scrutiny than public schools.
“Religious schools do not really have to follow almost all of the federal and state civil rights laws, so they are legally discriminating against many students in many protected categories,” she said.
Creswell said advocates of publicly funding private education often claim Black and brown students will be better served than they are in public schools, but she said because private schools are not required to accept all students who apply, students of color can get left out.
She cited a case of a private school that operates in a shuttered public school in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.
“Now it serves no kids with disabilities,” she said. “Its population is much whiter, much smaller low income population. It is surrounded by schools with very high numbers of students with IEPs” or individualized education plans.
She said it is difficult to assess whether private schools are providing quality education because they don’t have the same reporting requirements that public schools do, so there is less publicly available information about educational results.
“The claims about voucher programs is that you’re doing this to rescue kids from failing public schools and you’re going to plunk them into successful private schools where they are going to flourish. There is no data that says that happens,” she said. “We have plenty of evidence that the more you spend on public schools the better results you get. This is especially the case for low income children.”
A news release Oct. 17 from Empower Illinois argued for the extension of the tax credit and suggested the law could be improved.
“We’ve been carefully listening to lawmakers and hearing their suggestions and feedback for how to improve the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. In response, we are proposing the creation of a new priority category of scholarships exclusively for students who live in areas disproportionately impacted by poverty,” said Anthony Holter, president of Empower Illinois. “Further, our proposed amendment to the Invest in Kids Act will lessen the state’s liability for TCS tax credits while also attracting more low- and middle-income donors by incentivizing smaller donations. We believe these new ideas contain great potential to improve the program and encourage its extension for another five years.”
Since the Invest in Kids Act Tax Credit Scholarship Program began, nearly 41,000 scholarships have been awarded to kids from low-income and working-class families, according to Empower.