By: Editorial Board
Not every child learns at the same speed and not every child can succeed in a public school, but children can learn. They need to be in the proper environment, a setting that meets their needs. Students and their parents deserve to have options so students can reach their full potential.
Unfortunately, many families do not have options because of their financial situations.
The Invest in Kids Act helps remedy that. It’s a program that should be expanded so more students have the opportunity to receive the education that fits their needs. At the very least, it should be allowed to complete its five-year pilot run.
Invest in Kids, approved by the Illinois General Assembly in 2017, has helped about 5,500 students in Illinois.
The program is for families living at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four that’s $45,510. Also, those families need to be living in poorly performing school districts, of which there are 88 in the state, including Rockford Public Schools, Belvidere, Harlem and Freeport.
It’s a scholarship program and those who choose to contribute get an income tax credit worth 75 cents on the dollar. Those who get scholarships must reapply every year as there were no guarantees built into the legislation.
Critics say the program robs from public schools, but the numbers of students helped, and the yearly contribution cap of $100 million, are statistical blips in a state that serves more than 2 million students and spends more than $8 billion on public schools. The Illinois State Board of Education wants to add $7 billion to that number.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is not a fan of the program and during his campaign against Bruce Rauner said he would seek to end it.
That undermines the program and devalues what private schools bring to their communities. Vibrant communities need a healthy mix of education options.
A private-school education often can meet a child’s needs because of discipline, structure and faith-based approaches. Private schools are as much part of the educational fabric in our city and our state as public schools. We’ve long been supporters of options for parents, whether those options are charter schools, private schools or public schools.
Besides, children want to go to school where their friends are and some can’t because their families can’t afford to send them to a private school.
The uncertainty about the program’s future probably is why contributions are lacking so far. Without those donations, fewer children can benefit. Only about $9 million had been donated by mid-January. Scholarships are dependent on the availability of funds.
Tax-credit supporters say the scholarships will actually save the state money because private schools are cheaper to operate than public schools. According to a nonpartisan study of Florida’s tax-credit scholarships, for every $1 contributed, taxpayers saved $1.49.
Illinois was the 18th state to establish such a scholarship program so it’s not a newfangled idea, but it is an idea that should be allowed to prove its worth.
In an ideal world, more scholarships would be available, but that depends on the generosity of donors. We’d also like to see more certainty for families so they don’t have to worry about whether their children can continue to go to the same school.
National School Choice Week was Jan. 20-26, and during that week the Rockford Register Star published guest columns touting the value of education choices.
There are a lot of good options. Let’s give students the chance to explore them.