During the current veto session, the Illinois legislature will determine whether the Invest in Kids Act, which provides tax credits to donors for scholarships provided to students whose family income qualifies them for assistance to attend a private school of their choice, including those like MCA which are religious-based, will be renewed. The bill has been reintroduced by state representative Lisa Hernandez, of Cicero, and sponsored by Angelica Guererro-Cuellar, Kelly Burke and Marin Moylan. The governor has said that if the general assembly sends it to him, he will sign it. So that is good news.
It is currently in the rules committee. There may be modifications, including a higher credit for scholarships that support students from underserved populations, something that would benefit MCA donors. The new sunset date for the bill is 2029.
We have multiple families at MCA who have been able to provide this education for their children through the Invest in Kids Act. The scholarships have family income requirements and the amounts given are based on that, starting with the families at the lowest end of the income spectrum receiving the highest dollar amounts provided at 100% of their tuition. The other two levels provide 75% of tuition and 50% of tuition. Other expenses are not included. The income requirements are based on family income, number of dependents, number of students enrolled and total tuition.
Correcting False Information About the Invest in Kids Act
As with any legislation involving money or education, there is plenty of false information circulating around about Invest in Kids. The proposed information is available online from the general assembly itself, so any rumors or speculation can be corrected.
1. This is not a "school choice voucher program." Invest in Kids is not a voucher program, nor a proposal for a voucher program. It is a tax credit program. Scholarship donors get a tax credit for scholarships which are given to income-qualified students to use at a school of their choice. This includes both religious-based and non-sectarian private schools.
2. Public funds or tax dollars are not being given to private schools. The money for Invest in Kids comes from private contributors who make donations to schools through various programs, such as Bright Promise Foundation or Children's Tuition Fund, which are our providers. The contributor then gets a direct tax credit for their contribution. There is no tax money involved and no allocation from the state budget is involved at all.
3. The program does not "take money away from public education." The public education budget and allocations from federal, state and local sources is not affected, touched, tapped, or cut in any way and not a single penny of money budgeted for public education is affected by the program. In fact, in the most recent edition of the Invest in Kids Act, a budget allocation was added to boost the public school budget in Illinois.
Illinois issues hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits, mostly to big corporations and big business for making investments in developing areas, or in areas where the local economy has lost jobs and revenue. The money that is being invested and spent does not come from tax revenue or the state's investments. It is all private money.
4. There is no separation of church and state issue here. The Supreme Court has ruled that in such programs providing a public benefit, administered by government, as long as "no funds are taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in support of any church, denomination of religion, or in aid to any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, and that no such preference is given nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship," religious-based organizations can participate in programs for public benefit. There is no sectarian favor in giving or receiving these scholarships.
Invest in Kids involves no money from the public treasury, promotes no church or religious worship, is available to all qualified participants regardless of religious affiliation, and is therefore not a violation of the establishment clause of the constitution.
At MCA, Funds Are Put to Good Use
We account for our participation in Invest in Kids in two ways. One, in order to participate, our school must complete the process for recognition through the Illinois State Department of Education. We have done this successfully, based on their standards, which pertain to the quality of instruction and the safety of our premises, for quite some time. Beyond that, of course, though it is not a requirement, the quality of MCA's program is affirmed by being fully accredited by a recognized commission, ensuring the highest standards of education are being met.
Students who receive scholarship funds through Invest in Kids are required to complete the full battery of state objective tests each year. Over 80% of our students meet or exceed the benchmarks in ELA and math. Last year's CPS results can be found at Chalkboard-Chicago 2023 Illinois Assessment for comparison with schools in our area.
And before the old argument that private schools are selective in enrollment, dismiss low achievers and behavior problems, and "fudge" their scores is used here, let's talk about who MCA is and who MCA serves. We do none of those things. Since parents pay tuition, we recommend that if their child isn't succeeding, and we've used all of the resources we have to get a response, then they may better spend their tuition dollars elsewhere. But we work with every child we believe we are capable of serving and are called to serve, on behavior as well as on academics.
Our school is made up of a population that is 90% racial or ethnic minority, with 80% of that being Latino, including 50% Puerto Rican. An additional 10% are African American or Asian, or mixed race, and many of the students who are Caucasian are of Eastern European descent, such as Romanian, Polish or Ukrainian. If the funds were available, about a third of our families would qualify for the scholarship funds, and outside of that, the school itself gives away over $150,000 each year in discounts and in-house financial aid in working with families to make our $6,500 per year average tuition and fees cost, which is one of the lowest for private schools in the city, work for them. We're here to serve the city that we believe we were called to serve.
Our AYP testing shows that over 80% of our students meet or exceed the grade level standards benchmarks in ELA and mathematics. We've seen that drop a little bit since the pandemic, as we have enrolled over 135 students from public schools since the spring of 2021. But most students, after enrolling here, get back up to grade level within a year or two.
For any donor considering participating in Invest in Kids, we'd be a solid investment. For legislators wondering about whether to renew or not, don't make a partisan assumption. We're filling our seats with your constituents' children for a reason.
You can find out who your state representative and senator is by going to Find my Elected Officials. Most of them are glad to hear from constituents, and at the state level, with so much going on in each session, don't always have a clear perspective of how their constituents feel about something. We are aware that contributions haven't hit the capacity, and expect that to drop to a different figure, but our ACSI legislative advocates in Springfield are primarily hoping to see the bill extended for five more years.
Tax credit scholarship bills enjoy bi-partisan support in the 15 or 16 states where they are currently in use. This is because they do not use public funds, they are compatible with other tax credit legislation that benefits large corporations who make business investments in economically depressed or developing areas (such as grocery stores getting them for building locations in "food deserts" of small rural areas or large cities), and they are not expenditures from the state budget.
It's difficult to argue against a program that benefits students from underserved populations as well as helps schools reduce their expenditures without losing any budget allocations. The more seats available and used by students in private schools, the lower the cost per student to individual public schools. In our area, CPS schools save about $20,000 per year per student who enrolls in a private school under this program by freeing up that much additional funding for the district to use for each student who withdraws. And since those students also take the Illinois Assessment, it elevates the average scores that are reported by the district.