Tax-credit scholarships given out, more donations needed

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

BVM Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, chaplain of Loyola University’s men’s basketball team, and Cardinal Cupich talk on April 24 prior to taping video and radio spots urging Catholics to donate to tax-credit scholarship funds. (Karen Callaway/Chicago)Catholic

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago are gearing up for their first school year in which Illinois families can access tax-credit scholarships to help pay tuition.

As of mid-April, donors had pledged $40.1 million to scholarship-granting organizations across Illinois, according to the state. Donors receive a 75 percent state income tax credit for those contributions, meaning donors who gave $1,000 would have $750 taken off their tax bills.

Of the $40.1 million, about $32.6 million was earmarked to help families pay for private schools of their choice in Cook County, and another $5.2 million was earmarked for the region of northern Illinois that includes Lake County.

The scholarships are available to families of students from kindergarten through high school with financial need. Families with lower incomes are given priority.

Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, said it’s impossible to know exactly how much of that money will be used to pay tuition at Catholic schools, but it’s likely to be a large percentage based on the number of Catholic schools and the number of low-income families they serve.

Schools also don’t yet know how many scholarship recipients are already enrolled in Catholic schools and how many are new families.

“What it comes down to is that we will have several million more dollars in scholarships than we had before,” Rigg said. That’s significant because the main reason families give for not choosing Catholic schools for their children is the cost of tuition.

Rigg emphasized that it’s not too late for taxpayers to make donations to scholarship-granting organizations. The law that created the tax-credit scholarships set a state-wide cap of $100 million for donations, so there could potentially be $59 million more donated and given to families. The Cook County region had a cap of about $51 million, so about $19 million more could be donated.

Meanwhile, the scholarship-granting organizations are in the process of awarding the money they have already received. 

Empower Illinois, which is perhaps the biggest, saw its server crash when it opened up applications for tax-credit scholarships in January. It started over with a new, two-step process in February, having applicants first log in to get a number — essentially, a place in line to apply — so that the applications were received at a steady and manageable pace.

“What we know is that the demand far outstrips the supply,” Rigg said. “These are essentially full-ride scholarships to Catholic schools.”

The letters that went out in April either informed families that they had received a scholarship, that they met the income guidelines but were wait-listed to see if more money becomes available, or were rejected because their family income was too high to qualify.

Salvador Hernandez, who has four children at St. Mary Star of the Sea School, 6424 S. Kenneth Ave., said on April 17 that his application had been accepted by two of the four organizations he applied to, with both the Big Shoulders Fund and Empower Illinois offering partial scholarships for his three children who meet the age requirements. The fourth is in preschool. Now he must choose which scholarship to accept.

Hernandez said he did his homework on the process and filed several applications to increase his family’s chances of receiving funding. He also helped other parents at the school learn about the process, and walked several of them through the applications in the school computer lab.

While he would have sent his children to St. Mary Star of the Sea even if he didn’t receive scholarships, the scholarships will allow his family to have a little extra money, maybe even take a family vacation — something they haven’t done since before his third child was born.

Mariagnes Menden, principal at St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, 3741 W. 62nd St., said the creation of the tax-credit scholarships proved to be good for her school even before scholarship notifications came out. Many families who had not considered the school because of the cost came to visit, and many of them have already enrolled their children.

The school has 390 students this year, and already has 390 registered for next year, she said. Normally, the school wouldn’t reach that registration level until the summer.

“All we have to do is get them in the door,” she said. “These people are committed.”

Rigg said that families who do not receive tax-credit scholarships could still receive help from existing programs like the archdiocese’s Caritas and Phoenix scholarships, or Big Shoulders Fund scholarships or local school scholarships and financial aid programs.

For more information on tax credit scholarships, including how to donate, visit


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  • tax credit scholarships

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