A Lifeline for Illinois Students Needs Saving

As the General Assembly continues its fall Veto Session, the families of nearly 9,000 underprivileged students throughout the state are waiting and hoping Illinois lawmakers do the right thing – save the state’s Invest in Kids Program.

In the modern landscape of education, opportunities should be boundless, irrespective of a student’s economic background. However, that’s not always the case in the reality we live. Oftentimes, politics gets in the way.

In recent history, Illinois took a significant step toward ensuring every Illinois student has at least the chance to seek and secure a better educational opportunity despite their economic background limitation. This is thanks to the establishment of the bipartisan 2018 Invest in Kids Scholar Fund Program, which is somehow now the subject of an unnecessary heated political debate in Springfield.

This program was a beacon of hope for low-income, underserved students striving for academic excellence. As this invaluable program now teeters on the edge of expiration, the Illinois General Assembly faces a crucial decision: to save the Invest in Kids Program, ensuring that it continues to uplift thousands of lives across the state or to allow it to expire, extinguishing the hopes and dreams of thousands of Illinois families.

Established as part of the state’s landmark bipartisan comprehensive school funding reform, the Invest in Kids Program has been a true game-changer for the recipients of the nearly 40,000 scholarships that have been awarded so far. By offering private-dollar scholarships, the program empowers these students to attend schools that they couldn’t afford without it, broadening their own horizons and significantly improving their academic experiences. The impact this program has had on their lives has been immeasurable and has opened pathways of success that were previously inaccessible.

Perhaps the cornerstone of the Invest in Kids Program is its financial structure. As mentioned earlier, the program is fully funded by private donations. In order to maximize these private donations, the state offers a 75 percent state income tax credit to both individuals and businesses that contribute to the Fund. This has successfully encouraged private investment in education, raising more than $308 million since the Invest in Kids Scholarship Fund’s establishment.

Moreover, these scholarships are not handed out indiscriminately. They are provided to families that meet specific academic and income requirements, guaranteeing that the assistance goes to those who need it the most. In order to qualify for a scholarship, the student must come from a household with an income that is 300 percent below the federal poverty level. By directing these scholarships to students from low-income backgrounds, the Invest in Kids Program has helped address systemic inequalities that have far too often hindered access to quality education.

The looming end of the calendar year expiration date of this program has created much concern and turmoil in the lives of the families of these scholarship recipients. Without prompt action from the Legislature during the upcoming fall Veto Session, this lifeline for thousands of Illinois families will sadly vanish.

The Invest in Kids Program’s continuation is not just a matter of policy – it is a question of right and wrong. Will my fellow Illinois lawmakers turn their backs on children and their families? If so, what will they tell the parents, who want nothing more than to provide a better situation for their child?

Extending the Invest in Kids Program is an investment in the core belief that every child, regardless of their zip code or family income, deserves a chance to succeed. It strengthens our educational system, nurtures opportunities, and uplifts communities. By ensuring the program’s continuation during its upcoming Veto Session, the Illinois General Assembly has the chance to create a brighter, more equitable future for all its citizens.

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