May 22, 2023

By: Mark Cavers

The Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program is a beacon of hope for thousands of families seeking a better life for their kids. Yet, opponents argue that allocating funds to the Invest in Kids Program diverts resources from public schools as the Program comes up for renewal. 

 “If we want to really focus on making sure that our Black and brown students get a quality education, we need to take that $75 million and put it into those schools to help those public schools address the needs of those students,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association.

However, this argument doesn’t hold up if we look at the existing financial landscape. For example, Illinois currently has $3.6 billion in unspent federal aid designated for education, highlighting the lack of effective resource allocation within the public school system. According to new research from FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, which reviewed spending from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal aid program.

Meanwhile, the 2022 State Report Card found abysmal academic outcomes for students in public schools. According to that report, only 30.1% of Illinois students were reading at grade level and only 25.5% at target or advanced levels in mathematics. There is money available for public schools to work to improve these outcomes. But resources should not be directed away from the Invest in Kids Scholarship Program.

That is because the Program has been an overwhelming success, uplifting over 40,000 Illinois families. For low-income, working families who may not have the means to afford private or parochial schools, this Program has been a lifeline.

It has allowed them to choose the educational environment that best fits their children’s needs, empowering them with opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

At Chicago Hope Academy, 85% of their students qualify for the Invest In Kids Scholarship Program. The student population is 96% young men and women of color. These kids live in some of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, yet they have a 100% college acceptance rate with students enrolling in some of the most elite institutions in the country. 

One student graciously stated, “Hope saved my Life.”

Rather than pitting the Invest in Kids Program against public schools, education advocates should focus on improving public schools and better utilizing the resources already allocated while, at the same time, providing families with alternatives and alleviating some of the burdens on public schools.

The Invest in Kids Act serves as a necessary alternative, addressing the shortcomings of the public school system and offering families a lifeline to escape from underperforming schools.

It is disingenuous to tell the 9,000 families of scholarship recipients and the more than 20,000 families on the waitlist that there is no room for them in the state budget and that their desperation for a better opportunity for their children’s education is unwarranted. It is morally wrong to tell them to wait while the adults spend another generation and billions of dollars trying to improve public schools.

As Illinois public schools hold onto billions of unspent federal funds while failing to provide too many children with even a basic level of education, the urgency to explore alternative solutions becomes evident.

Acknowledging the existing financial resources available to public schools, we should ensure families have access to quality educational options while public schools work to improve their  educational offerings.

The General Assembly should act and make the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program permanent and expand the budget so more families can prepare their children for educational success.

The money and demand are there, and these families deserve priority in the upcoming budget discussions as the May 19 deadline approaches.


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