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Bipartisan coalition backs Illinois’ private school scholarship program

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Bipartisan coalition backs Illinois’ private school scholarship program

FILE - IL Rep. David McSweeney
Illinois state Representative David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to phase out the state’s private school tuition program has new opposition in the General Assembly after a number of Democrats joined a Republican’s bill to try to keep the program through its five-year pilot program.

House Resolution 289 isn’t binding, but it is a significant statement. It highlights a number of students who benefited from the Invest in Kids private school scholarship program and urges House and Senate leaders to allow the program to live out its five-year lifespan.

“For Yvonne Camarillo’s family, they now can have their child Adriana attend kindergarten at St. Agnes of Bohemia School in the Little Village community of Chicago, providing her a high quality school that fits her needs in a safe and culturally appropriate environment,” it reads. “For Lakisha Partridge’s family, the scholarship allows their 3rd grade child, Jeremiah, to flee constant bullying in his school and now attend St. Leonard School in Berwyn, where he is treated with respect and is placed at his appropriate high academic level.”

State Rep. David McSweeney filed the bill. He’s gathered a coalition of Democrats to support of the resolution that could present a roadblock to Pritzker’s plan to phase out the program.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside; Kelly Burke, D-Oak Lawn; Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights; Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan; Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero; Robert Rita, D-Blue Island; and Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook had all signed on in support of McSweeney’s resolution as of Wednesday.

“This just shows bipartisan support for the program,” said McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills. “We need to make sure we are funding it to the full level of the law.”

The scholarship program is funded by private donors who get a 75 cents-on-the-dollar tax credit via the Illinois Department of Revenue. Some $61 million was donated in the first year.

Empower Illinois, one of the scholarship-granting organizations, released a report from the 2018 school year on the program. The organization’s report showed the majority of students who received tuition from the program were low-income, minority children from urban areas. It reported that the majority of the 5,459 students that received scholarships were non-white minority students who attended 401 different schools across Illinois. The recipient’s family’s average income was $35,371, or 148 percent of the poverty level. And the average scholarship received was $6,669, about the full cost of the average tuition.

Some 1,988 donors donated an average of $1,000. Eleven donors gave the maximum amount of $1.3 million, an amount responsible for sending about 200 kids to private schools of their choice at little-to-no cost to the family.

Pritzker’s budget proposal would halve the donation cap to $50 million and not allow any new students apply for scholarships. It would then gradually phase it out over the next couple years.