Illinois Democrats Kill State’s Only School Choice Program

Hundreds of parents and others rallied in support of the program.
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 28: Children wave their hands at a private nursery school January 28, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland. The average price of pre-school care has increased over the past year, sending child care prices to an average of GBP200 in parts of the southeast. Many working parents in the UK have called for pre-school childcare subsidies such as those in France where nearly 100% of three-year-olds are in pre-school education, despite the fact that school attendance is not compulsory until they turn five. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Illinois Democrats allowed the state’s only school choice program to expire this week.

The Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program will sunset at the end of the current school year after Illinois legislators ended the fall legislative session on Thursday without taking action to renew it.

The $75 million program awards an income tax credit to taxpayers who donate to scholarship funds that allow lower-income students to attend private schools.

About 9,700 Illinois students received scholarships last school year. The average family income for scholarship students was $45,000, according to Empower Illinois, the state’s largest scholarship granting organization.

Republicans and some Chicago-area Democrats had pushed to renew a slimmed-down version of the program for five years. The new version would have cut the program to $50 million, slashed the tax credit amount, and reduced the donation cap from $1 million to $500,000 as well as focused more on low-income students.

However, the majority of Democrats in the state House never backed the proposal, and Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat, declined to call the bill to the floor.

On Monday, a group of Illinois House Democrats called for scrapping the program, arguing that school vouchers “perpetuate and deepen the education inequities that plague Illinois” and complaining that many of the private schools are “run by religious groups” and “openly discriminate” on the basis of things like gender identity.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parents and others with signs reading “Save My Scholarship” rallied at the House during all six days of the fall legislative session.


The Republican House minority leader, Tony McCombie, promised to fight to reauthorize the school choice program next year.

“I think there is some things that we can do to make it a better program, a more effective program, that could serve more students as well,” McCombie said.

Teachers unions were the main opponent of the Invest in Kids program.

The president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers celebrated in a statement on Thursday, saying there is a “nationwide push to divert public dollars from our public schools.”

“Illinois lawmakers chose to put our public schools first and end the state program that subsidized private, mostly religious schools, many of which have discriminatory policies,” union President Dan Montgomery said.

Over the last few years, the school choice issue has taken center stage in several states.

Florida expanded its school choice program and has over 90,000 more students enrolled in private schools and other alternative education programs than last year.

In Arizona, more than 60,000 students have used the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, a number that skyrocketed over the last year.

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