Thirty years ago, my father passed away after a battle with cancer shortly after my eighth birthday. At the time, I attended Joliet’s public magnet schools. My mother made the decision to transfer my siblings and me from Eisenhower Academy to our down-the-street neighborhood Catholic grade school, St. Patrick’s in Joliet. This decision worked best for our family for many reasons, including the fact we no longer had to be bussed across the city in order to attend a school that would meet our academic needs. We were within walking distance of St. Patrick’s and my grandparents’ house, and a faith-based educational environment made a huge difference in recovering during that difficult time period.
Fast forward 25 years, in 2017, with bipartisan support, lawmakers in Springfield passed the evidence-based funding formula that scrapped an archaic method of funding K-12 education and transformed the funding mechanism for public schools that met the needs of more Illinois students. Since the law’s passage, $1.6 billion in new funding to public school students has been delivered. Packaged with the EBF, was the Invest in Kids Act, the Tax Credit Scholarship program for low- and middle-income families to attend the private school of their choice, like St. Patrick’s Grade School.
While serving as the Director of Institutional Advancement at my alma mater, Joliet Catholic Academy, I am a strong advocate for Catholic education, but I am also an advocate for families that choose public education. The EBF and the Tax Credit Scholarship program both have made education better in Illinois for families over the past five years. At Joliet Catholic Academy, 86 students have been able to attend JCA who otherwise may not have been able to afford tuition. This past school year, 27 students received scholarships to attend JCA, while another 108 students remained on the waitlist.
The Tax Credit Scholarship program has been immensely popular in the Diocese of Joliet’s Schools and across the state of Illinois. According to Empower Illinois, JCA’s partner and Illinois’ largest Scholarship Granting Organization, 7,018 students received tax credit scholarships in 2022, while another 31,948 students remained on the waitlist, a testament to the unmet demand for tax credit scholarships in Illinois.
With no action from legislators, the Invest in Kids Act, a program that is working for families across the state, will sunset. The program should not only be made permanent but should expand to meet the needs of Illinois families, searching for the best-fit school for their child like my mother was able to do 30 years ago during a time in need.
The Invest in Kids Act creates an opportunity for all of us to invest in our area, invest in our future, invest in our children. We need our state legislators to hear the voices of the 1.9 million-plus students in Illinois, seeking a fully funded education that best fits their family’s needs.
• Ryan Quigley is the director of Institutional Advancement at Joliet Catholic Academy.