Far too often, students are bullied by their peers and teachers, as uncovered in the “Betrayed” series by The Chicago Tribune. One tragic case was recently revealed after Jamari Dent, an 11-year-old attending Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Chicago, was relentlessly bullied for months by students and teachers. Jamari is currently on life support after attempting suicide.
Shockingly, Jamari’s school ignored warning signs and pleas for help by the boy’s mother. Jamari and thousands of other students should have the ability to escape mistreatment when schools refuse to or cannot stop bullying by other students, teachers, and staff.
Jamari, the children in the “Betrayed” series, and hundreds of other cases within Chicago Public Schools exemplify why the Invest in Kids Act should be expanded. Unfortunately, newly elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called for an end to the program.
The Invest in Kids Act, enacted in 2017, created a tax-credit scholarship program that provides Illinois students greater educational options. Under Invest in Kids, private individuals and corporations can donate to a scholarship-granting organization (SGO) and receive a 75 percent credit off their state tax liability.
Students apply to the SGO for a scholarship. The SGO awards scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis to the applicants until the donated monies are exhausted. The program is capped at $100 million in donations each year, or $75 million in tax credits. The program was set to automatically sunset five years after its initial starting date.
Not only are Illinois schools failing to keep students safe, they are failing them academically. According to the 2018 Illinois School Report Card, only 37 percent of students meet or exceed proficiency in English language arts. Even worse, just 32 percent reached the same benchmarks in mathematics. Less than four in 10 students across Illinois are academically proficient.
Even with this dismal record in Illinois’ public schools, Pritzker wants to eliminate the very program that offers relief and hope for thousands of Prairie State students. To date, more than 7,000 students have received scholarships via the Invest in Kids program. Seventy-two percent of these students come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
In the program’s first year, donations topped $61 million, the largest of any first-year tax credit scholarship program in the country. Even with this monumental amount, thousands of students were left without a scholarship, as more than 32,000 students applied.
Over time, the demand for these scholarships has grown even greater. Currently, more than 40,000 applicants are hoping to enter the program, which means tens of thousands of students will again go without scholarships, even if donations reach the cap of $100 million.
Unfortunately, it appears the rhetoric coming out of Springfield has damped down donations. Currently, donation pledges are less than 39 percent of the pace from year one. This will surely be devastating for many students who received scholarships in 2018.
Taxpayer education funding in Illinois increased from $12,045 per pupil to $13,336 from 2013 to 2017 equaling $27 billion in total public school spending for 2017. That means the first-year tax credit funding for the Invest in Kids program of $46.1 million composed only 0.17 percent of total education spending in the state. Even if the tax credit were maxed out, it would only equate to 0.28 percent of total education funding.
Pritzker is quibbling over, at most, one-quarter of a penny for each dollar spent on education. There is no legitimate justification to take this one-quarter of a penny away from students who are in desperate need of escaping unsafe and failing education institutions.
Parents, not bureaucrats, know best about the safety and education of their children. Pritzker and the Illinois legislature should expand the Invest in Kids program and allow as many students as possible to participate, not end a successful program to score political points with teachers unions.