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Research & Commentary: Illinois’ Invest in Kids Program Should Be Expanded, Not Phased Out

March 22, 2019

Program Served Over 5,400 Children In 2018

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is encouraging the Illinois General Assembly to end the Invest in Kids Program, a tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program for low- and middle-income children.

Enacted in 2017, the Invest in Kids Program is open to families with household income levels below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, roughly 52 percent of Illinois families are eligible for the program, which has a budget cap of $75 million.

Pritzker’s plan would lower the program’s budget cap to $50 million in the current fiscal year and then gradually phase the program out entirely over the next three fiscal years.

The main scholarship-granting organization for the program, Invest in Kids, raised $61 million from nearly 2,000 individual donors in 2018, according to a report from Empower Illinois. In its first year, more than 5,400 scholarships were awarded, with an average scholarship amount around $6,700.

Almost three-quarters of all scholarships granted, 74 percent, went to families with household incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $46,000 for a family of four. The average income for a recipient family was $35,371, or 148 percent of the federal poverty level. Black and Hispanic children made up 52 percent of scholarship grantees.

The median donation was around $4,000, with $1,000 being the most common donation. A little more than half, 53 percent, of these donations stayed within local communities. There were more than 32,000 student applications for the program in 2018, and Empower Illinois estimates it would have cost only $216 million to award scholarships to all applicants.

Currently, with 23 different programs in 18 states and more than 1.2 million scholarships granted, TCS programs are the most popular form of private school choice in the nation. TCS programs provide several education benefits to participating students while doing so at a lower cost than public schools. A study released in October 2016 by EdChoice “estimates the fiscal effects” of 10 of the nation’s 23 TCS programs (comprising 93 percent of all awarded TCS scholarships). The study found TCS programs have saved “state governments, state and local taxpayers, and school districts” from $1.7 billion to $3.4 billion through 2014. In other words, TCS programs saved anywhere from $1,750 to $3,000 per student. The savings in the 2013–14 school year alone (the last year available for study) ranged from $320 million to $580 million.

2019 study from the Urban Institute, expanding on previous research of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program—the country’s largest TCS program—found participating students are 99 percent more likely to enroll in a four-year college and 56 percent more likely to graduate college than their public school peers.

Copious other empirical research on TCS programs and other school choice initiatives shows these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Furthermore, TCS programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. 

Students at private schools are also less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

The Invest in Kids Program is already providing a better and more enriching education environment for thousands of low-income Illinois children. Legislators should reject the call to phase out the program. Instead, Illinois lawmakers ought to increase its budget cap and make it permanent. By doing so, they would ensure all Illinois children have the opportunity to attend the school that best fits their unique educational needs.

The following documents provide more information about tax-credit scholarship programs and parental choice in education.

Empower Illinois: Year One Report
http://4dhtkf2wqn413zp0gx18mx0d-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/EI_Y1Report_Digital.pdf
The data in this report from Empower Illinois confirms that the Invest in Kids Program is helping low-income Illinois students find the school that best fits their needs. Three of every four program students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, with the average scholarship recipient having a family income equal to 148 percent of the federal poverty level.

School Choice Fallacies: Disproving Detractors’ Allegations Against Tax-Credit Scholarship Programs
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-7-Tax-Credit-Brief.pdf
This report from Martin Lueken and Michael Shaw at EdChoice examine tax codes to address claims alleged by school choice detractors, such as: Tax-credit scholarship programs lead to “profit,” “double-dipping,” “get-rich schemes,” and “tax shelters” for donors.

The Tax Credit Scholarship Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Tax-Credit-Scholarship-Audit-by-Martin-F.-Lueken-UPDATED.pdf
In this audit, EdChoice Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Martin Lueken updates previous work examining the fiscal effects of private school choice programs on state governments, state and local taxpayers, and school districts. Lueken’s report analyzes savings from tax credit scholarship programs, which allow individuals and businesses to reduce their state tax liability by making a private donation to a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools of their choice. This audit looks at 10 tax credit scholarship programs operating in seven states between 1997 and 2014. These 10 programs serve 93 percent of all students participating in tax credit scholarship programs nationwide.

The Effects of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program on College Enrollment and Graduation: An Update
https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/99728/the_effects_of_the_florida_tax_credit_scholarship_program_on_college_enrollment_and_graduation_0.pdf
In this update to a 2017 Urban Institute study, authors Matthew Chingos, Tomas Monarrez, and Daniel Kuehn find students participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program are 99 percent more likely to enroll in a four-year college, and 56 percent more likely to graduate, than their public school peers.

The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation: Evidence from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-effects-of-statewide-private-school-choice-on-college-enrollment-and-graduation-evidence-from-the-florida-tax-credit-scholarship-program
This study from Urban Institute scholars Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn shows Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program boosted college enrollment for participating students by 15 percent, with students enrolled in the program for four or more years seeing a 46 percent hike.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/protecting-students-with-child-safety-accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in moving their child from an unsafe school. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately move their child to a safe school— private, parochial, or pub­lic— as soon as parents feel the school their child is currently attending is too dangerous for their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa830.pdf
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

2018 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent and Teacher Experiences, Accountability, and School Choice
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/2018-12-Schooling-In-America-by-Paul-DiPerna-and-Michael-Shaw.pdf
This annual survey from EdChoice, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Competition: For the Children
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/competition-for-the-children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lennie Jarratt, Heartland’s project manager at the Center for Transforming Education, at ljarratt@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org @BenceAthwart