CHICAGO — Theauntae Jones says he hopes to head to college next year in Ohio but the road there hasn’t been easy.
“My mom was struggling really hard and this helped her a lot,” the Leo Catholic high schooler said of the ‘Invest in Kids’ program. “Mom came into my room and she was really happy (and) said, ‘We got the scholarship.’ It gave her $8,000.”
The Illinois Invest in Kids Scholarship Program allows taxpayers a 75% credit for every dollar donated towards the funding of scholarships that help send students from low-income families to private schools. The program is due to sunset by the end of the year, however, and will go away entirely by January 2025 unless lawmakers step in to save it.
More than 9,000 kids are on scholarship, with about 26,000 more on the waiting list. It’s why hundreds, including Rev. Michael Pfleger, gathered at St. Sabina on Wednesday, demanding action from officials in Springfield.
“We can’t keep talking about children reaching their purpose and then block them from the education they deserve,” Pfleger said. “I fight for this school cause I want the best thing for the kids in this neighborhood and the opportunity for them to achieve their goals and dreams.”
Critics argue that the Illinois Invest in Kids Scholarship Program has diverted millions from Chicago Public Schools.
“Chicago Public Schools, alone, is $1.2 billion short from the state where it should be. And so, it’s really not OK to be handing over public dollars to private schools,” said Cassie Creswell, Illinois Families for Public Schools director.
According to Creswell, doing away with the program is not about stopping scholarships – because wealthy donors can still write checks and claim money back from the federal government – rather than the state.
“It’s a question of how much are we subsidizing donors who want to make contributions to private schools and should we really be subsidizing those more than we do other charitable contributions?” Creswell said.
But Pfleger told WGN News it’s not a case of who needs more money but about Illinois investing in education so that children from all backgrounds can succeed.
“Why can’t we have both?” Pfleger asked. “Why can’t we do both? We can and we should. So don’t play politics with me, ‘Well, if we do this, we hurt this;’ That’s garbage. We have to stop lying about that. We can do both.”