JCA official says Joliet area parents left hanging without Invest in Kids Act

Araceli Romo Alvaredo (left), her daughter Melanie Rodriguez Romo, and her husband, Juan Rodriguez, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, at Joliet Catholic Academy. The family was among many who spoke in support of the Invest In Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program.

The end of a tax credit scholarship program for students at nonpublic schools will leave parents with a “huge unknown” for the next school year, according to an official with Joliet Catholic Academy.

On Thursday, state lawmakers adjourned their fall veto session without calling House Bill 4194 for a vote to keep the Invest in Kids Act alive. The scholarship program allows students at nonpublic schools in Illinois to receive tax credit scholarships.

The Invest In Kids Act now will expire Dec. 31.

A sign outside Joliet Catholic Academy supporting the extension of the Invest In Kids Act tax credit scholarship program, seen on Thursday, Nov. 9, in Joliet.

The creation of the program in 2017 was considered necessary in order to get former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign the public school funding overhaul at the time, according to Capitol News Illinois.

Ryan Quigley, JCA institutional advancement director, described House Bill 4194 as a “compromise” to extend the program.

Quigley has lobbied for the extension of the Invest In Kids Act in Joliet and gathered support from the majority of the Joliet City Council.

Quigley said the bill was “languishing in the rules committee” and needed to be called for a vote by Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the Democratic speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Quigley said he was “very disappointed” when the veto session adjourned Thursday with no call for a vote on the bill.

“Parents have been left with a huge unknown heading into the next school year,” Quigley said.

Supporters of the Invest in Kids scholarship program for private schools rally outside the Illinois House of Representatives chamber on Tuesday. Lawmakers adjourned their fall veto session Thursday without voting to renew the program, meaning it will expire on Dec. 31.

One of those parents is Maricarmen Pina, whose children attend St. Jude Catholic School in Joliet. She called the news of the program’s expiration “very, very unfortunate.”

“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” Pina said Friday.

Pina was one of several parents who pushed for the continuation of the Invest In Kids Act at an Oct. 12 event at JCA. Pina spoke at the time about the difficulties her families faced after the death of her husband.

Pina said without the program, residents like her will have a “much lower chance to get out of poverty.”

Quigley said JCA will see what it can do to help families who have been reliant on the scholarship program. He said he thinks education policy in Illinois “took a step backward” from the past six years.

In Will County, the program had support from Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy and seven other council members, the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Will & Grundy Counties Building Trades Council.

“As elected officials, we have a shared responsibility to ensure our youth have access to quality and affordable education. We urge you to call the bill for a vote in the House,” D’Arcy said in a Nov. 7 letter to Welch.

At a pre-council meeting Monday, Quigley told members of the Joliet City Council that the Invest In Kids Act gives low-income and middle-income families access to education under Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other religions.

Quigley said to the council that JCA has a waitlist of more than 110 students seeking scholarships under the program. He said he isn’t a “big fan of school choice” but “parent choice.”

“I’m a fan of moms having a choice. I’m a fan of being a good partner in our community with our public schools and our private schools,” Quigley said.

On Thursday, Quigley said he thinks the expiration of the Invest In Kids Act could cause the closure of Catholic schools in Joliet, which already faces parish closures because of falling attendance.

“That’s definitely within the realm of possibility,” he said.