Lester: Will new tax credits keep more Catholic schools from closing?
Catholic Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg acknowledges some schools will close as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago's massive restructuring plan.
But Rigg can't yet say which ones, and in the meantime, he has been focusing on slowing enrollment declines in the nation's largest private school system.
There are 78,000 students in the archdiocese's 215 schools across Cook and Lake counties -- down from a high of more than 365,000 students in the 1960s.
Rigg, of Buffalo Grove, last week visited St. Thomas of Villanova School in Palatine, a 196-student school that has raised enrollment in recent years and modernized classrooms with the help of private donors.
One boon to Rigg's mission to stabilize both enrollment and school finances came in the form of a new tax credit in Illinois' recently passed education funding law. State officials say archdiocese students could net half of an estimated 6,000 scholarships to be given to private-school students next year.
The $75 million annual program allows students from households earning less than $73,000 per year to receive scholarships of up to $12,280 apiece to a private school of their choosing. Donors can give up to $1 million per year and get a 75 percent tax credit.
While many rules are still being written by the Illinois Department of Revenue, Rigg says "we know donors can begin contributing in January and families can begin to receive the scholarship awards in February."
Embedded within the 550-page bill is a geographic distribution requirement, so the city of Chicago won't "gobble up the scholarships," as Rigg says, because of its population density.
"We're having deep conversations right now about how we can make sure our families are aware of this opportunity and schools are ready to serve the families coming to them."
A memorable vacation
State Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield got caught up in the deadly fires that have ravaged California's wine country in recent days, forcing many residents to evacuate their homes. A spokesman from Batinick's office said the family was on vacation there but recently was able to safely return home to the suburbs.
McBreen, McConchie push abortion bill repeal
Two suburban lawmakers are leading an effort to repeal a controversial abortion bill signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this month. Republican state Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard and state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods on Thursday filed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which would prohibit governments in Illinois from using taxpayer funds for elective abortions, reversing key provisions of the recently enacted House Bill 40.
Breen and McConchie also are pushing for a debate and floor vote on the measure during the fall session in Springfield later this month. The abortion legislation, which provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions, is set to go into effect in January.
Two baseball teams
Reader Joseph Bianchi of Palatine was a frequent emailer this week as I covered the repeal of the controversial penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax in Cook County. Among his thoughts: Why do we need 17 county commissioners? He points out those commissioners, plus President Toni Preckwinkle, are enough to field two baseball teams. Each commissioner makes $85,000 a year.
Bev Jaszczurowski of Bartlett clued me in this week to environmental agency SCARCE's "don't trash it, smash it" pumpkin composting project, encouraging suburbanites to drop off Jack-o'-lanterns to be composted the Saturday after Halloween. Officials from the organization say returning mushed up pumpkin nutrients to the soil not only makes soil richer but prevents methane from building up in landfills when pumpkins are simply left to rot with other garbage.
Towns from Clarendon Hills to Barrington have registered, and there are drop off locations in both Elgin and Bartlett. Jaszczurowski tells me 93 tons of pumpkins so far have been diverted from landfills. Take a look at https://www.scarce.org/pumpkins/.