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  • Megann Horstead

Invest in Kids Act could open door for easier access to private education


Many parents only want what’s best for their children. They put in time and effort to invest in their educations.

Finding the right school can be a daunting task in itself, let alone paying for it.

To support families who are interested in enrolling their children in a privatized K-12 education, some Tinley Park schools are working to ensure that needs are met.

The State of Illinois late last year adopted a piece of legislation called, “Invest in Kids Act,” a kids scholarship tax credit program for qualifying schools, in which a portion of the student body performs in the bottom 10 percent statewide or a graduation rate of less than 60 percent.

The way it works is students from families with limited financial resources, up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, are eligible to receive a tax credit scholarship to help make a private school education more possible, according to Empower Illinois. Individual and corporate donors may receive a credit up to 75 percent toward their Illinois state taxes.

The funding is allocated as follows:

  • For students whose household income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, the scholarship will be paid for 100 percent of tuition and necessary fees.

  • For students whose household income is between 185 percent and 250 percent, scholarships will be 75 percent of tuition and necessary fees.

  • For students whose household income is between 250 percent and 300 percent, scholarships will be 50 percent of tuition and necessary fees.

The maximum amount that a scholarship award can amount to is equal to the value of tuition and necessary fees or the statewide average operating expense per student, whichever is lower.

“I could see the need if families wanted to do it,” Trinity Lutheran School principal Jerry Gliege said. “I am exploring this as we go into next year.”

Jean Bergeron, director of mission advancement for Southwest Chicago Christian Schools, agreed.

“We’re very interested in offering a high-quality education,” she said. “Students that apply need to go through our regular application process. We’re excited to give them a choice.”

Bergeron said they’re hoping to bring in at least 1,000 students with the help of the program.

On average, the amount to fund a child’s education in the State of Illinois is $12,973, according to Empower Illinois. Additional monies can be granted to students identifying as gifted and talented, English language learners and eligible to receive services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The application period for qualifying students is now open through April 1, at which point a number of children who apply will be considered for scholarships, given the availability of funding. Scholarships for the 2018-2019 academic year will be awarded to the qualifying school where the student is enrolled beginning in March.

However, Empower Illinois, the non-profit organization that is responsible for processing donations, accepting applications and distributing scholarships, does not require that a child be enrolled in a private school in order to apply, according to Empower Illinois. After notice is given to a student’s family telling them of the award they’ve been granted, they have 30 days to confirm enrollment.

All students who are awarded a scholarship are required to take the state examination, according to Empower Illinois. The Illinois State Board of Education will select an independent research organization to conduct an annual study examining the year-to-year learning gains of students receiving scholarships and a comparison of these learning gains to public school students with similar demographic backgrounds.

Awards are issued for one calendar year, with the option for additional renewals given priority to previous recipients.

“We’ve been working on this since November,” Bergeron said. “We are anticipating $500,000 in contributions. It surpasses what our goal was. We were thinking we’d get $100 to 200,000. We’re excited, and we’re thankful for our community.”

The scholarship program, Gliege said, is hoped to bolster student enrollment to attract students who otherwise might not be able to enroll.

“We like to be a cross-cut of the population,” he said. “We have a nice mix of kids from all over. … We need to put this out there to our parents and the congregation.”

Bergeron said it has been noted in the past that some families do not send their kids to the school for financial reasons.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “We have to find creative and new ways to talk about [privatized education.] Some people find it affordable. It’s about getting them to understand that it can be affordable and having that conversation.”

At Southwest Chicago Christian Schools—Tinley Park campus, enrollment numbers amounted to 292 students last year. The data this year shows there are 276 students.

Current enrollment numbers show that Trinity Lutheran School has 252 students. Last year’s data shows that approximately 260 children were enrolled.

There are a number of benefits to privatized education, including small class sizes and a faith-centered education.

Gliege said he thinks more education is needed in order to inform students and their families of the choice this piece of legislation aims to open up.

“The only ones who are informed go online and seek the information,” he said.

For more information about the scholarship granting organization, visit www.empowerillinois.org.

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