Illinois lawmakers discuss Invest in Kids scholarship future

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The Illinois State Capitol building.

State lawmakers debated the future of the Invest in Kids scholarship Thursday ahead of budget negotiations that could potentially cut the income tax credit for donors to the program that helps low-income families find education for their children. 

Gov. JB Pritzker’s 2022 budget proposal suggests cutting the tax credit donors receive from 75% to 40%. House revenue committee chairman Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Chicago, says Pritzker’s proposal would open the door for the donations to become subject to federal deductions, which Zalewski admitted is less enticing to donors. 

"With this cut, not all program donors would have the ability to give in the same capacity or at the same level, which means that fewer dollars will be available for these vital scholarships," said Anthony Holter, president of Empower Illinois.

Holter said the Invest in Kids scholarship has raised over $170 million for 20,000 scholarships since it began in 2018. The average household income of the recipients is $40,000.

"As we have these conversations, we really (should) stop focusing on the income of individuals and (more) on the beneficiaries of these scholarships," said state Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago. 

Tarver said 70% of the Invest in Kids scholarships are going to minority children.

"They are literally waiting in line with their hand raised and saying they want this opportunity,” Holter said, adding about one and six of eligible recipients receive the scholarship.

He said most people who donate to the program do it because of the large tax write-off they can receive and they would give less if the threshold was lowered. 

The Illinois Federation of Teachers testified in support of Pritzker’s plan. However, Tarver said their opposition cannot be taken credibly because IFT has been “talking about taking money away from Black and brown students” in other areas. 

Of the lawmakers who spoke in the hearing, there was little indication that Pritzker had support for his plan.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, wants to take a different approach to award the scholarship. She said private schools receiving money should follow the same state guidelines as public schools.

"Public dollars are currently supporting private schools. Public dollars should be supporting public schools that meet the standards we set," Cassidy said.

Her proposal, House Bill 2597, would require private schools to "conform" to public school standards to participate in the scholarship. Cassidy said this applies to state inclusion requirements or bullying standards, not religious teachings at religious schools.

Cassidy wants the proposal considered as lawmakers debate the future of the scholarship, which is set to sunset in 2024. Some lawmakers were skeptical about the approach, however.

"It has been ruled that these types of programs are indeed constitutionally allowed," said state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford. "The whole point of the program is that it’s not making private schools public schools. It’s giving a taxpayer an option."

State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, also wants lawmakers to consider his proposal to create an income tax credit for parents. Senate Bill 2132 would create a $600 income tax credit for families earning less than the median income. 

"It’s my feeling this is something that’s going to benefit all of our constituents across the state, Simmons said.

Faith Arnold from SEIU Healthcare said the proposal would help lower-income parents who have had to choose between caring for their children during the pandemic and personal income. 

Simmons said his plan would cost the state $750 million at the most. Pritzker has based his budget proposal on eliminating $932 million of tax breaks to balance it with an expected revenue shortfall due to the pandemic. 

Lawmakers must pass Illinois’ budget by the end of the month.

via The State Journal-Register https://www.sj-r.com

May 6, 2021 at 08:35PM

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