Imagine a life without choices.
One in which there’s just a single option available to you for most everything.
Lunchtime? Enjoy your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or go hungry.
Need a car? Take this Mitsubishi Mirage and like it.
Baseball in July in Chicago? Well, at least the White Sox are playing.
Doesn’t sound like much of a free society, does it?
Well, hundreds of thousands of Illinois parents have no choice when it comes to where they send their children to school. It’s the public school nearest you or, well, nothing.
But what if that public school isn’t doing a good job educating kids?
Only 37 percent of Illinois students in grades 3 through 11 are proficient in the English Language Arts portion of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test, according to the latest Illinois Report Card data. And only 32 percent of students statewide passed the math test.
Those are average statewide numbers. Some school districts show much better results. Many others are far worse.
If your child attended one of these lower-performing public schools, wouldn’t you want another option?
Some families can afford to send their child or children to a private school, where in Illinois the average annual tuition is nearly $6,000 for elementary schools and about $12,000 for high schools.
Let’s face it. Most Illinois families can’t afford that.
That’s where the Invest in Kids pilot program comes in.
The five-year, private school scholarship program became law in 2017 as part of a wider education reform package. It offers a 75 percent tax credit for every dollar donated to scholarship granting organizations, who then award the money to eligible, lower-income students to pay for private school tuition.
The need for the program – and more school choice options like it in Illinois – became obvious in its inaugural year when tens of thousands of families applied. However, only a small number were granted scholarships because of the limited available funds.
Empower Illinois, the largest of five grant-funding organizations, said it awarded nearly 5,600 scholarships last year but had about 30,000 more remain on a waiting list.
Empower Illinois Executive Director Anthony Holter said his organization is seeing similar demand for the scholarships ahead of the 2019-2020 school year. Three of four grant recipients last year lived in a family that is below 180 percent of the state poverty level, he said.
These scholarships clearly are going to families who aren’t happy with the public school education their child was receiving but wouldn’t have the option to send them elsewhere without the program.
“I would say clearly and unequivocally, we are hearing from families across the state that they desperately want, desire, more educational options,” Holter said. “Many families already have that choice. Whether they can afford private schools, or they live in a great public school district. … That same option [for a good education] should be available to all families.”
Thus far, more than $9 million has been donated to Invest in Kids scholarships for the next school year. The 75 percent tax deduction is good up to $100 million of donations annually.
Empowering parents and their children to make the best educational choices for them is what Invest in Kids is about. Visit empowerillinois.org to learn more.