Two suburban private schools say they’re shutting down because of the end of the state’s tax credit scholarship program.
The controversial program known as Invest In Kids took donations from people and businesses. It used that money to subsidize student tuition for low-income families at private and trade schools before expiring last year. Critics of the program say it takes away resources from the public schools the majority of state children attend.
St. Frances of Rome School in Cicero and St. Odilo School in Berwyn say they’re on a financial cliff, with more than half their students on full or partial scholarships.
“It’s an alarming piece of news for families across our schools,” said the Rev. Brendan Curran with The Resurrection Project.
The Resurrection Project says they’re working with schools, partners and families to continue to advocate for students to remain in their schools.
Across the Archdiocese of Chicago, the state scholarship program provided more than $25 million dollars of aid to 5,000 low-income families to attend Catholic schools.
Eva Villalobos is a parent at St. Gall School in Chicago and currently has a daughter utilizing the tax credit scholarship.
“They are currently trying to tell us, ‘Don't panic,’ which is kind of hard to do,” Villalobos said. “I have four girls, one that unfortunately was just diagnosed with behavioral and cognitive issues … Now I’m tasked with trying to figure out what am I gonna do to try to make sure that we can keep our girls there at that school, and that can be challenging.”
Almost 70% of students at St. Frances of Rome are on the tax credit scholarship, and 100% are Hispanic-identifying families, Curran said.
Still, numbers across the state show that of the students who received 2021-22 scholarships to attend private school, about 57% were White, almost 30% Latino and under 18% were Black, according to an analysis from Chalkbeat Chicago.
Meanwhile, critics of the program say these kinds of scholarships are taking away resources from neighborhood public schools.
Nayeli Burns is a public school parent in Berwyn where one of the private Catholic schools is slated to close. She said her North Berwyn District 98 has been struggling while losing about $10 million per year.
“About one-fifth of our students are in special needs programs so we need that funding to go back to our public schools,” Burns said. “Students are getting shorted up to $3,500 a year per pupil.”
Similarly, the Chicago Teachers Union has been pushing for investment into public schools in order to address the resources many lack in underserved communities.
Hilario Dominguez, a special education teacher and a Chicago Teachers Union member, said the scholarships don’t have to end.
“We said that from the get go, if donors want to donate to these schools, they can do it directly,” Dominguez said. “Scholarships existed for Catholic schools and private schools for a very long time before this voucher program. They can continue to exist if they wanted to. If they want to fund them, they can continue to fund them. There is no compromise in bringing a program like this back because it siphons away money from public schools. Public schools that are accountable to the people. Private institutions are not accountable.”