Chicagoland

Application process open for tax-credit scholarships

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
January 23, 2019

A combined choir from Epiphany and St. Francis of Rome schools perform at an Oct. 30, 2018, tax-credit scholarship celebration. Five Catholic schools gathered at St. Francis of Rome School in Cicero for the tax-credit scholarship public action with Empower Illinois, the state's largest scholarship-granting organization. Families from St. Albert the Great, St. Francis of Rome, Our Lady of Charity and St. Leonard spoke about how tax-credit scholarships have allowed their children to attend Catholic schools. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Plenty of Chicago-area Catholic school families and leaders are excited about the opportunity for students to receive tax-credit scholarships. Now they need more Illinois residents and businesses to donate to the organizations that grant such scholarships to Catholic school families.

Empower Illinois, the largest scholarship-granting organization in the state started taking reservations to apply for 2019-2020 scholarships Jan. 15. Three minutes after the online portal opened, 14,000 families were logged on simultaneously, according to Robert Hudzik, school finance and enrollment consultant for the Office of Catholic Schools, who was observing the process.

Big Shoulders, which also offers tax-credit scholarships, opened its applications Jan. 22.

Last year, the program’s first year, more than 4,000 students in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago — including those run independently or by religious communities — received tax-credit scholarships, said Jim Rigg, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools.

But there were probably four times as many families asking for scholarships, Hudzik said.

“The good news is that the demand for Catholic schools is there,” Rigg said. “These scholarships provide a way for some families to ameliorate what people tell us is the number one reason they don’t come to our schools, and that’s the cost. Hopefully, more can be fulfilled in the future.”

Tax-credit scholarships are available to private-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade whose families meet income requirements, and they are given out generally on a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to families in greater need.

The money comes from donations to state-recognized scholarship-granting organizations from individuals and businesses, who receive a 75 percent Illinois state income tax credit for their donations, with a statewide limit of $100 million in donations, or $75 million in tax credits.

That means that someone who donates $1,000 to an SGO gets $750 off their state income taxes. Last year, in the program’s first year, SGOs received more than $56 million in donations. Individuals can designate their donations to go to students at specific schools or to groups of schools.

As of Jan. 18, the organizations had received about $8.7 million in donations for the program’s second year.

A group of several donors is offering a two-to-one match for donations made to Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic schools through Feb. 28 or until they meet their $5 million limit, Rigg said. The program is also limited to $100,000 per school.

That means that when a donor gives $1,000 in scholarship donations to archdiocesan schools, or to a specific archdiocesan school, there will be $3,000 more in scholarships to go around.

While students at all private schools are eligible for tax-credit scholarships, the Archdiocese of Chicago operates more private schools serving primarily low- and middle-income populations than any other entity in the state, Rigg said, and last year’s scholarships made a difference for many schools.

Among them was St. Maria Goretti School in Schiller Park, where 31 out of 138 students are receiving full-tuition scholarships from Empower Illinois, for a total of $143,000. All of those families are applying to renew their scholarships, according to the principal, Claudia Mendez, and five new families came to the school to use its computer lab to put in their own applications.

The tax-credit scholarships have not only allowed families to keep children in the school, they have brought more students in from existing families, Mendez said. In one case, a family enrolled its youngest child in preschool — which is not part of the tax-credit scholarship program — after the two older children received tax-credit scholarships.

In addition to encouraging Illinois taxpayers to donate, Catholic school leaders are showing off the program’s success to their state legislators. With a new governor, there is some concern that legislation will be introduced to end the tax-credit scholarships before the five years allowed in the original act, or to stop the program from being renewed in 2023.

“We’ve had letter-writing campaigns and invited the legislators to meet the students and families who are benefiting,” Rigg said. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

For information, including how to donate, visit schools.archchicago.org/tax-credit-scholarships.

Topics:

  • catholic schools
  • tax credit scholarships

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