SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Theauntae Jones is one of 9700 students on scholarship because of the Invest in Kids Act. The president of Theauntae’s school said he has had the opportunity to thrive because of the scholarship, but after Thursday, the Invest in Kids Act will expire at the end of the year.
“Theonte is a classic example,” said Dan McGrath, President of Leo High School in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. “I doubt very much he would be here without a tax credit scholarship and yet he’s come here, he has absolutely thrived, got himself set up for college.”
Hundreds of people rallied in Springfield this week in a last ditch effort to save the program, with Illinois republicans pushing to bring the issue to a vote, but efforts fell short on the last day of the legislative session, and the Invest in Kids Act was officially brought to an end.
“I, myself, was an underpriviledged kid that got a scholarship to a high school. That changed my life and the lives of four of my best friends, people of color, who went on to successful careers,” said Martin McLaughlin (R), Illinois State Representative from Lake Barrington. “This is personal to me, and it is personal to hundreds and thousands of families that you put in terrible jeopardy, and you’ve destroyed their opportunity to an equitable education.”
In a statement, the Illinois Education Association (IEA)celebrated the end saying the focus should be on providing funding to public schools.
“The voucher system was intentionally created with a lack of oversight and accountability, leaving us with no data to measure its effectiveness. Public money belongs in public schools and we are glad our lawmakers believe that, too. Eighty percent of our public schools in Illinois are underfunded.”Al Llorens – President, Illinois Education Association
McGrath and other supporters of the Invest in Kids Act disagree with the IEA’s stance, and said focusing on providing funding to public schools isn’t mutually exclusive.
“I think a school like Leo, it’s definitely disappointing, because I just don’t buy the argument that it funnels money away from public schools,” McGrath said. “These are totally voluntary contributions and we have been blessed that people can earmark their contributions for a specific school. Enough people earmarked Leo that we were able to provide scholarships for 36 students.”
Theauntae’s mother, Tanisha Williams, said before he qualified for a tax scholarship because of the act, and was at a different school, he wasn’t challenged.
“There he was bored,” Williams said. “Even when he was at his first elementary school, the teachers apologized because they couldn’t give him enough work to keep him occupied.”
Theuantae echoed McGrath’s sentiments, and said the tax scholarship from the Invest in Kids Act helped him feel at home in the right educational environment.
“”I didn’t want to experience that feeling of insecurity,” Theauntae said. “That feeling of not being comfortable in my own environment, in my own neighborhood.”
A scaled down version of the Invest in Kids Act has been proposed, with hope that lawmakers and advocates can come together on a compromise when the legislative body reconvenes in the new year.