Businesses win by supporting tax credit scholarships

  • CHRISTOPHER HANKINS/chankins@dailyherald.comRosary High School graduate Katlyn Gerken, right, tosses her mortar board along with classmates following Thursday's graduation ceremony at St. Patrick Catholic Church in St. Charles.

    CHRISTOPHER HANKINS/chankins@dailyherald.comRosary High School graduate Katlyn Gerken, right, tosses her mortar board along with classmates following Thursday's graduation ceremony at St. Patrick Catholic Church in St. Charles.

 
Posted3/20/2022 1:00 AM

I want to tell you about Jose Granados and how businesses can help families like his.

Granados attended the local public school but was left traumatized by neighborhood violence on Chicago's near southwest side. In search of normalcy, the family sought a new life in the suburbs, where Granados' unique interests and needs were a match with a nearby private school.

 

But when a nightmare cancer diagnosis hit Granados' father, limited income meant the family couldn't afford it.

This story isn't unique. There are an estimated 26,000 kids on a waitlist for a scholarship to attend a private school that fits their unique needs. That's the problem without school choice -- or the ability to select the school your child attends -- options are only available for those with means. And if your local school cannot address your child's specific needs, you are out of luck.

Fortunately, like most local problems, the solution involves businesses.

Let me explain.

In 2017, Illinois passed a historic education law that offered low-income families life-changing scholarship money so their kids can attend qualified nonpublic schools. This program, called the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program, allows individuals and businesses to donate money toward private school scholarships and receive a tax credit of 75 cents for every $1 donated.

The program has been a lifeline to a diverse group of students who are benefiting from expanded educational options and whose families otherwise could not afford to pay for private schools. In 2020, the average annual household income of participants who received scholarship money through Empower Illinois, the largest scholarship granting organization in the state, was just over $38,000.

At least 43% of the children receiving scholarships are students of color. All thanks to the generosity of investors of the program.

I should note that public schools can be wonderful. New Trier, Stevenson, Hersey and Prospect are among many amazing local schools. But one school will never be the right fit for everyone. The Invest in Kids program finally gave some families a choice.

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This is where the solution lies. Only about 1% of donations to Invest in Kids currently comes from businesses. When businesses get involved, it can help thousands of students on the waiting list.

And our businesses will benefit as well. Quality education leads to a stronger and better-trained workforce -- one of the major assets we have in Illinois.

Additionally, a bill in the Illinois Senate, SB 3618, filed by Sen. Antonio Muñoz D-Chicago, would allow businesses to designate particular schools as the recipients of their donations -- not just scholarship granting programs -- just as individuals can do under current law. Businesses deserve to invest and give directly into their local communities.

This is an issue close to my heart. A few years ago, I got a call from my sister-in-law. Her words still echo in my ear, "My son is dropping out of school." I was in a state of disbelief; he's a smart kid. He had amazing potential.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So why did he drop out during his sophomore year of high school? He was bullied. He was tired of getting beat up and exhausted from running away, so he stopped showing up.

Failure will result in a bleak future. I know because my nephew just turned 19, and he doesn't have a job. He is still smart, but his potential is fading fast. It breaks my heart.

On the other hand, Granados received a tax credit scholarship. His mom said: "My boys are thriving in schools they love in a community that has really supported us. The other parents and school staff have just done so much for the kids, offering them counseling, rides and making sure they've been fed. We only had Christmas because of them."

The education system has a profound effect on our future. Businesses win by supporting the next generation, receiving a tax credit and building a stronger workforce.

• Matt Paprocki is president of the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization.

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