Supporters of tax credit scholarships take their stories to Springfield

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Parents and students from St. Gall School meet with Illinois Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar in Springfield on Nov. 30, 2022. Photo provided

For Yuridia Carbajal and her family, the Illinois Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program has been a lifeline.

Carbajal’s son, Angel Tellez, is a seventh grader at Most Blessed Trinity Academy (MBTA) in Waukegan. For the past two years, Angel has received a full scholarship through Empower Illinois, one of two scholarship granting organizations archdiocesan schools work with.

The scholarship granting organizations receive donations to be used for scholarships to private elementary and high schools in Illinois; donors receive a credit of 75 percent of their donation on their Illinois state income tax. That means that a donor who gives $1,000 will have their state taxes reduced by $750.

The program, which began as five-year pilot in 2018, has already been extended by one year. Now proponents are pushing to make it permanent, using stories like Carbajal’s to show the good that the scholarships do.

Angel, the youngest of four children in his family, suffered a stroke when he was five weeks old that left him with learning disabilities and other challenges. He qualified for government-provided early intervention services including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Those services ended when he turned 3 years old.

“I didn’t want to just send him to a babysitter,” Carbajal said. “He needed to be in contact with other kids.”

MBTA, her parish school, offered full-day preschool, something that the local public schools did not provide at the time. Angel has been a student at MBTA ever since, and is thriving. Carbajal hopes and expects he will follow in the footsteps of his older siblings, two of whom have graduated from college and one who is in college.

But three years ago, Carbajal lost her full-time job. Now she works part-time, driving a van for Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, and her husband is also working part time.

“[The tax credit scholarship] was a blessing for parents like me who wanted their kids to get a better education,” Carbajal said. She said MBTA has allowed Angel to interact with other students since he was in preschool, and to learn in an environment where he feels safe.

Money is tight, she said, but both parents working part-time has given them more time to spend with their son. Still, she said, if the tax-credit scholarship program were to end, “it would be very hard for us to pay the tuition.”

Angel is one of about 2,600 students in 137 archdiocesan schools who are receiving full or partial tax-credit scholarships through scholarship granting organizations Empower Illinois and the Big Shoulders Fund this year, but another 4,000 students are still on the waiting list, according to Clare Sullivan, director of scholarships for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools.

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said advocates for tax credit scholarships hope that they can get an extension passed by the state legislature during the lame-duck session in January, before newly elected legislators are seated.

“The benefit of doing it now is that lawmakers know the program and they pretty much know their position on whether they would like to extend it or not,” Gilligan said, adding that he believes an extension of the program has enough support to pass if it comes up for a vote.

If the legislature doesn’t vote on it in January, advocates will try again during the spring legislative session.

Meanwhile, parents like Carbajal have been traveling to Springfield to tell their legislators that the program works, and school leaders like Sullivan are continuing to educate donors, in hopes of raising more money so more students can get scholarships. Individual donors can earmark their gifts to benefit students at specific schools or groups of schools.

Despite increasing support, donations to scholarship granting organizations have never reached the $100 million annual limit set by the state.

Sullivan said that anyone considering donating can double the impact of their gift, as Empower Illinois has a one-to-one matching program running through March 31. Some limits — including a cap of $75,000 per school — apply.

“I’d really encourage elected officials to continue the program to empower the community,” Carbajal said. “I’m a mother with two college-graduated kids, and a freshman in college. I want my son to have the same success. … If they were to cut off this scholarship, it would be really hard for us.”

To learn how to make a tax credit scholarship donation, visit



  • tax credit scholarships

Related Articles