Illinois’s Invest in Kids program, a tax-credit scholarship program for low- and middle-income students, was enacted in 2017 and launched in 2018, making it Illinois’s second educational choice program. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations and more.
Illinois’s second educational choice program
22nd tax-credit scholarship program nationwide
Limited to low- and middle-income families
52 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide
Maximum value: $7,380 (Spring 2019)
Maximum value as a percentage of state’s public school per-student spending: 54 percent
Illinois offers tax credits to individuals and businesses for donations to scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships to low- and middle-income students.
Each SGO determines the amount of the scholarships it distributes, but the baseline scholarship amount cannot exceed the lesser of the state’s average operational expense per pupil (OEPP; $12,973 in 2018–19) and the necessary costs and fees for attendance at the qualified school. Exceptions include:
Additionally, maximum scholarship values are segmented by income level unless meeting one of the above exceptions:
SGOs are required to grant priority to the following students who applied by April 1 of the preceding school year: (1) eligible students who previously received a tax-credit scholarship, (2) students from households whose prior year’s income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL; $46,435 for a family of four in 2018–19), (3) students who reside in districts that have a school with at least one subgroup whose average student performance is at or below the state average for the lowest 10 percent of student performance in that subgroup or with a school with an average graduation rate of less than 60 percent, then (4) siblings of current scholarship recipients. All other eligible students shall be eligible to receive scholarships without regard to those priority groups beginning April 1 of the same year.
Students are eligible to receive scholarships if their family income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($75,300 for a family of four in 2018–19). Once a student has received a scholarship, families may earn up to 400 percent of the FPL ($100,400 for a family of four in 2018–19) for the duration of the scholarship or scholarship renewal while retaining eligibility.
Students must also (1) be eligible to attend an Illinois public elementary or high school the semester prior to receiving a scholarship or be starting school in Illinois for the first time and (2) reside in the state.
Illinois’s tax-credit scholarship program is a positive step for families wanting educational choice in the state. The program allows students to be eligible without first requiring them to attend a public school, which grants access to more families than states that have such a requirement. Moreover, the scholarships offer high funding amounts for low-income families, gifted students, English language learners and students with special needs. However, there is room for improvement. The $75 million credit cap, while seemingly large, is a small fraction of what Illinois spends on K–12 education. The state testing mandate may deter private schools from participating in the program and provide participating schools with a strong incentive to narrow the curriculum and “teach to the test.” A nationally norm-referenced test would allow scholarship students’ parents to compare their performance with students nationally without imposing the unintended consequences that stem from imposing a single state test. It is also unclear whether the 75 percent credit value will provide enough of an incentive for individuals and businesses to donate the maximum amount to scholarship-granting organizations so as many students as possible have access to scholarships. Additionally, disbursing credits in a manner that is “geographically proportionate to enrollment in recognized non-public schools in Illinois” does not incentivize the opening of private schools in small town and rural areas that do not already have a significant number of private school students. Finally, the program’s sunset provision should be eliminated so students will have access to educational choice beyond the 2022–23 school year.
No legal challenges have been filed against this program.
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