Saving the Invest in Kids program is the right thing to do

The futures of nearly 10,000 low-income students will be decided after Oct. 24 when lawmakers return to Springfield for veto session.

That's when they will vote on the future of the Invest in Kids scholarship program, which offers a 75% income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to scholarship granting organizations so low-income families can pick a private school when it is a better fit for their needs. The program is set to expire at the end of this year and requires an extension from lawmakers during this veto session or it will put the fate of those 9,600 students - plus at least another 20,000 on the waitlist - at risk.

That's a problem. Invest in Kids is good for families. It's good for businesses and for the Chicago suburbs. But more than that, it's just plain good for Illinois. It's morally right. And it deserves to be preserved.

A common fallacy is this program is all about Chicago and assisting families find an alternative to Chicago Public Schools. Families from all around the state are using Invest in Kids to send their children to schools that better meet their unique needs.

Over 500 students in the Daily Herald coverage region received scholarships to attend a school of their choice last year. They attend schools such as St. Alphonsus Liguori School, Science and Arts Academy, Holy Family Catholic Academy, Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, Carmel Catholic High School, Willows Academy, Loyola Academy and many more.

The Northwest suburbs have world-class public schools - arguably some of the best in the country. However, this program has underscored how important it is to have a private school option when the public school doesn't meet a child's individual needs. The scholarship meets that need when their families' incomes cannot.

Low-income students receiving this scholarship are escaping bullying, seeking more one-on-one attention, dealing with trauma, or are following their personal interests and beliefs. These families may need extra resources and more attention than large public schools can offer.

Business leaders know what is right for one isn't always right for all. That's why many businesses exist: to offer alternatives and to solve problems. We must afford families and students that same advantage.

Similarly, the future of Illinois' workforce depends on students developing unique skill sets and talents. The Invest in Kids scholarships can play a part in that, helping Illinois' future workers reach their full potential by providing individualized educations. It can help a struggling student excel.

The program could go farther to get businesses involved. The current law forces businesses to donate to the program at large; they can't pick and choose specific schools to donate to the way individual donors can. That should be remedied with follow-up legislation so businesses can better develop relationships with schools that resonate with them or that help their communities.

But the first step is saving the program. Five hundred kids and families who are our neighbors, friends and family are relying on Invest in Kids scholarships. Kids started this school year - making friends, learning, building relationships - without knowing whether they can return next year.

The program's future hinges on local lawmakers taking action during veto session. That means state Reps. Michelle Mussman in Schaumburg, Mark Walker in Mount Prospect, Mary Beth Canty in Arlington Heights, Nabeela Syed in Palatine, Fred Crespo in Streamwood, Martin Moylan in Des Plaines, Jonathan Carroll in Northbrook and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz in Glenview. We must all contact our lawmakers to ask where they stand on saving the Invest in Kids program when veto session begins Oct. 24.

Tell them: Sometimes good business means doing the right thing. Investing in kids' futures is the right thing to do.

• Matt Paprocki is the president and CEO of Illinois Policy, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

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