“For too long, low-income children in Illinois have been prisoners of their ZIP codes. Their educational opportunities are determined by arbitrary lines on a map that pen families inside a school district’s boundaries.” With these opening words, in an Aug. 13 editorial, the Chicago Tribune laid out a compelling case for including school choice in the education bill our representatives were debating in Springfield. With the passage of legislation that funded public schools and the possibility of scholarships for school choice through tax credits, our elected officials gave families the opportunity to choose between their public school district and a non-public school for their children. The Tax Credit Scholarship Program included in the legislation signed this year provides taxpayers the opportunity to direct their tax obligation to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO), which will distribute scholarships to low-income families who choose to send their children to qualified non-public schools in Illinois. Each family and business will be able to donate to an SGO and receive a 75 percent tax credit. The limit of the credit for individuals and businesses is $1 million. For example, if you donate $1,000 to an SGO you will get credit for $750 toward your state income tax bill. This legislation recognizes that one of the most important decisions parents make is where their children will go to school. Prior to the enactment of this law, low-income families had no choice because they did not have the financial means to consider a non-public school. The Tax Credit Scholarship Program provides low-income families with the ability to choose. In short, tax credit scholarships even the playing field. While this is all new to Illinois, tax credit scholarships are already successfully supporting families in 17 states. In virtually all cases, standardized test scores are increasing for all schools, including neighborhood public schools. Tax credit scholarships save states millions of dollars by taking students off state and school district budgets, placing them in private schools that often educate children for a fraction of the public school cost. Our schools are up to the task. Nearly 150,000 children attend Catholic schools in Illinois. The number is much higher if one includes all private schools. The Archdiocese of Chicago alone serves more than 76,000 students in 214 schools in Cook and Lake counties. Our families represent the diversity of our region: nearly half come from racial minorities, more than 20 percent are below the federal poverty line. Our rates of success are impressive: more than 98 percent of our students graduate from high school, more than 96 percent attend college and our graduates earn hundreds of millions of dollars in college scholarships each year. The Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago have earned more Blue Ribbon Awards from the U.S. Department of Education than any other system, public or private, in the country. Our schools don’t just benefit children, but society more broadly. Studies have shown that Catholic school graduates are highly likely to vote, to be employed and to engage in community service. Catholic school graduates are well represented among CEOs, elected officials and leaders of social and non-profit organizations. Our schools are not only anchors for families but for entire communities, contributing to the common good. While we have an outstanding record of success, we know affordability is the top reason more families do not choose our schools. Now that can change with your help. I encourage you to participate as best you can. The first step involves making a request for a Letter I.D. from the state, which you can do online. Go to mytax.illinois.gov and click on “Individual.” From there you will see a heading, “Miscellaneous,” under which you should click “Request a Letter I.D.” You will need your Social Security number and another form of identification such as an Illinois driver’s license number. You will receive your letter within seven to 10 days. Then, on Jan. 2, you can register with the state your pledge to an SGO, such as Empower Illinois, which serves all Illinois Catholic schools. Visit archchicago.org/tcs to learn more about this process. I ask you to consider dedicating your donation to the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Additional information is being provided through our parishes and schools. I have already requested my Letter I.D. and plan to donate at the maximum amount. I have benefitted from Catholic education and know firsthand the opportunities it provides. Please join me in making this effort a success. It is a historic opportunity we should not let pass by.