The cafeteria of St. Nicholas of Tolentine School was filled to capacity Feb. 22 with parents and students from eight Catholic schools who were celebrating Illinois tax-credit scholarships. Schools around the archdiocese have hosted similar rallies since the legislation went into effect in 2017, but this time participants heard personally from one of its staunchest supporters: Cardinal Cupich. “The greater the flexibility and availability for parents to choose a school always results in greater participation of the parents in the education of their children,” Cardinal Cupich said, speaking in English and Spanish. “Difficulties paying the cost of tuition should not restrict their choice. Tax credits help enable families pick the school that best suits their child’s needs, regardless of their economic background.” Cardinal Cupich thanked elected officials and grassroots organizations for supporting tax-credit scholarship legislation. He also thanked school staff and the parents in attendance. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, 2,300 students have received scholarships and $11 million has been raised, he said. “It is crucial that this program not only remain in place but in fact be expanded so that more can have this opportunity,” Cardinal Cupich said. The scholarships were created as part of a comprehensive education funding bill passed in 2017 that allows Illinois tax payers to donate to non-profit scholarship granting organizations and receive a 75 percent credit on their state income taxes. The statewide limit is $100 million in donations, or $75 million in tax credits. 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. Students and parents attended the rally from St. Bruno, Queen of the Universe, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, St. Mary Star of the Sea, St. Symphorosa, St. Richard and St. Gall schools. During the rally, Rocio Vergil, a parent from St. Richard School who has four children in Catholic schools, spoke about the importance of the scholarships to families. “We’re all here because Catholic school is the best choice for us,” Vergil said. “The children make that commitment, but we’re the support. Behind that support is you, all of you who have supported the tax-credit scholarships.” Vergil called the tax-credit scholarships “life changing.” “Times have changed. Living expenses have gone up,” she said. “Having received the tax-credit scholarship for my children has allowed me and my children to look to the future and actually believe it when we say you can do whatever you want if you set your mind to it and work hard.” Eduardo Villacorta, an eighth grader from Queen of the Universe School, also shared how receiving a tax-credit scholarship changes school and parish communities. “The TCS program is important to our school community because it will allow families to have an opportunity to send their children to a Catholic school,” he said. “Recently our school community has increased, making our parish stronger.” A former public-school student, Villacorta said he quickly noticed a difference when he transferred to Queen of the Universe. “I believe that a Catholic school is different than a public school because it has a stronger curriculum, which also includes religious education, which strengthens our students’ faith,” Villacorta said. “Religious education has allowed me to expand my knowledge and perspective on God. I now think of God not only as our creator, but as a friend.” Villacorta and his family have applied for a scholarship for next year so he can attend a Catholic high school.