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Illinois bishops urge support for school choice measure, while Nebraska bill fails

Catholic school classroom Stephen Kiers/Shutterstock

Illinois bishops are urging Catholics in the state to support a scholarship program funded by donations with tax credit incentives - tax credits that the governor intends to cut. 

Illinois’ Invest in Kids Act, enacted in 2017, allows for a 75% state income tax credit for charitable donations to an approved scholarship-granting organization; the scholarships help students to attend the school of their choice. 

The act, which passed with strong Catholic support, has led to scholarships granted to some 20,000 children in Illinois so far, the state’s bishops say; more than 25,000 students are still in line for scholarships. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and the Illinois Education Association do not support the act, however, claiming that it diverts money away from public schools. Pritzker has recommended cutting the tax credit from 75% to 40%. 

Parents should have greater school choice for their children, the state’s bishops said. 

“One of the most important decisions parents make is where their children will attend school. All of us concerned with the common good should advocate for greater access to excellent educational opportunities,” Illinois’ six Catholic bishops wrote in a joint letter this week. 

“Because this is an issue that will be negotiated during the budget negotiating process, there is no specific bill number to give you.  We ask you to simply call your state legislators and urge them to oppose the Governor’s plan to cut the Invest in Kids program and instead support efforts to extend and improve the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit,” they wrote. 

In Nebraska, the state bishops’ conference lamented the failure of a school choice bill last week in the state legislature. 

The legislature failed to pass LB364, a measure that would have created a tax credit for donors to scholarship funds for low-income students; the funds could have been used for students attending private school, with a yearly cap of $5 million on the funds. 

After eight hours of debate in the Senate, with opponents arguing that the bill would sap resources from the state’s public schools, the bill ultimately failed April 28 amid a filibuster. 

Jeremy Ekeler, Associate Director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, lamented the bill’s failure to pass, saying that lawmakers had “prioritized politics over parents’ rights.” 

“LB364 affirms the truth that every child deserves the right to pursue an education that is best for them, regardless of zip code or income,” Ekeler said in an April 28 statement. 

“While LB364 did not advance today, a full day of thoughtful debate on this issue is a big step in the right direction. We will continue to advocate for families until we have true educational freedom in our state,” he stated. 

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Nebraska and Illinois have not been the only states considering school choice-related policies. 

In late March, Kentucky lawmakers voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of school choice legislation; the bill allows the use of tax credits to fund vouchers for students in some of Kentucky’s largest counties to attend private schools. Kentucky’s four Catholic bishops applauded the bill’s passage. 

A previous version of this story stated that the proposed Nebraska tax credit was 50%; the actual proposal was for a 100% credit. The story has been corrected.

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