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Scholarship tax credit in the mix as lawmakers, governor grapple with education funding formula

UPDATE: Read our statement on final passage of education funding legislation, which includes the Scholarship Tax Credit.

An initiative that would give low- and middle-income students expanded opportunities in the school they attend is in the mix as Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner battle over the governor's amendatory veto of  an evidence-based school funding formula as embodied in Senate Bill 1.

The Scholarship Tax Credit is a proposal that seeks to create both educational opportunities and stability for low-and middle- income students. Financial grants would be generated from corporate and individual donations to scholarship-granting organizations. Students would then use these scholarships to attend a Catholic or other private school of their choice. To encourage the financial donations required of the initiative, corporations and individuals would receive a state income tax credit for their contributions. 

Numerous studies have shown the value of Catholic schools, both in educational achievement and community-building. A faith-based approach offers a holistic learning experience, leading to increased high school — and subsequently college — graduation rates. Catholic schools also provide cohesion and community to local neighborhoods.

Illinois lawmakers ended a record-setting, two-year budget impasse on July 6, when they overrode Rauner's vetoes of a spending plan and an income tax increase.  Left hanging in the lurch, however, is funding for public K-12 education, as the budget package calls for the monies to be distributed via an "evidence-based" funding formula, as created in SB 1.

The Catholic Conference has been working for the past two years on the Scholarship Tax Credit, and did achieve a $250 increase in the popular Education Expense Tax Credit — from $500 to $750 — in the final budget that was implemented in July. Parents of all school children use the Education Expense Tax Credit to held defray the costs of tuition, books, and lab fees. As with many proposals, the name and details of the Scholarship Tax Credit have evolved since its inception, but its intent remains the same: to provide access to educational opportunities for all children. 

The Catholic Conference is currently seeking the Scholarship Tax Credit through an appropriation, an amendment to SB 1, or new legislation. 

Rauner made no mention of the Scholarship Tax Credit in his veto message, but did voice general support for school choice during a press conference on Aug. 1, when he announced his amendatory veto.

Click here to contact your state representative and state senator, and ask them to support the Scholarship Tax Credit.