Imagine every child had the opportunity for a great education. Imagine families had the power to send their children to the best schools without worrying about the costs.

Last year, Illinois took the first tepid step towards achieving it. On a bipartisan basis, the General Assembly created a scholarship program which empowers a fraction of low-income children with the financial help necessary to attend a great school.

About 5,500 kids used this program in its first year.

Daisy Chavez, a single mom working paycheck to paycheck on the southwest side of Chicago, is able to send her children to St. Gall with the help of the tax credit scholarship program and the Big Shoulders Fund. She says the school has “made a big difference in the way her children view school and themselves. They are more engaged in their school work, made more friends, and their teachers truly care that they do good.”

Christine Hernandez was diagnosed with a kidney disease and had to take significant time off work. With the decrease in salary and hospital bills, she was unable to pay tuition. With the help of the tax credit scholarship program and the Big Shoulders Fund, her two children were able to continue to attend St. William. Christine is grateful for the assistance and wants donors to know “they are making a difference in students’ lives.”

This new program, Illinois’ Invest In Kids Act, gives power and choice to students and their families rather than unions and other special interest groups.

It’s no surprise that groups like the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union are fiercely opposed to this balanced approach that they fear will lessen their stranglehold over the state education establishment.

With the unions at their back, Democrats, including Gov. Pritzker, want to end this assistance for the poor. They will work harder than ever this session to take away tax credit scholarships from deserving families who want more choice for their children’s educational needs.

Governor Pritzker himself promised to get rid of the program while on the campaign trail.

How is it fair to take away this program from the families who rely on it to help their kids get a decent education? Parents are desperate for other options for their children who are stuck in underperforming schools, and now they may see the program pulled out from under them.

One of the scholarship granting organizations has a waitlist of over 5,000 students.  Empower Illinois has received over 50,000 applications from families who are seeking better alternatives than the public school determined by their zip code.

Only 30% of Illinois 8th graders are on track to be ready for high school in Mathematics and only 36% in English Language Arts.

The failed status quo in our state’s education system means students are not prepared for college or their future careers. The opportunity scholarships are a tool to help bridge the gap and end the cycle of poverty for low income students in underperforming school districts.

We must make sure our legislators not only keep the current program in place but make the program permanent so families are assured their children will receive the scholarships in the future.

As families across the nation celebrate school choice week, families in Illinois fear that their children’s best path to success and independence will be closed off.

The more competition there is amongst all schools whether they are private, charter, or public, creates healthy competition to produce the best quality education and the most efficient system to properly educate all kids no matter their family’s income or zip code.

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